In My Garden: Red Banana

•September 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

♪♬ I like bananas, because they have no bones ♬♪ Continue reading ‘In My Garden: Red Banana’

A Brief Note On Socialized Medicine

•September 27, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I have another ear infection.

The last time I had an ear infection, it stuck with me for over a month. It wouldn’t go away on its own. When I broke down and shelled out for medical treatment, I had to do it THREE TIMES before anyone figured out it was a fungal infection that antibiotics could do shit-all with… and I was the one who figured out what medicine was the right one. It cost a few hundred dollars to find out that I needed a four-dollar bottle of clotrimazole drops. I’m not sure if my current ear infection is fungal – it may just be part of the cold I’m grappling with. If it doesn’t go away on its own, I now know some things I could try to treat it. Given my last experience, I am very reluctant to try and purchase certainty from a doctor. Not that I could afford it now, anyway.

If free health care is a bridge too far for my country, could we at least agree not to charge people for medical treatments that don’t fucking work?

UPDATE: Wait, wait, I’m not done yet.

If someone starts a discussion about home remedies by saying that they can’t afford to see a doctor, your reply should not include any suggestions along the lines of “go see a doctor.” Fucking believe it or don’t, but some people CAN. NOT. AFFORD. A. DOCTOR, and your fucking worthless illiterate goddamned bullshit is just you talking to hear your own idiot voice. If you don’t have any advice a person can execute without a professional’s assistance, STAY THE FUCK OUT OF THE CONVERSATION. You aren’t relevant, insightful or welcome.

Tomorrow, I’ll write a post about bananas. People who barge into discussions about self-treatment aren’t welcome there, either.

Dark Souls: Prepare To Lie

•September 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Well, that’ll learn me not to get my hopes up.

Last week on Days of Our Souls, Hidetaka Miyazaki revealed that he had been pondering adding an easy mode to his famous video-game-slash-trial-by-fire, Dark Souls. Or DID he? Namco Bandai informed us that this was all a misunderstanding. They send a nice message to Metro letting them know that they didn’t translate Miyazaki’s words correctly. Let’s compare the statements, shall we?

The original: “I am thinking about whether I should prepare another difficulty that everyone can complete or carefully send all gamers the messages behind our difficult games.”

Revised: “I am thinking about how to make everyone complete the game while maintaining the current difficulty and carefully send all gamers the messages behind it.”

The revision makes no fucking sense. You cannot make everyone complete a game that is too hard without making it easier… except by paying them, and I don’t think that’s seriously on the table. What you are looking at is the colloquial definition of insanity. Namco Bandai wants to use the same difficulty over and over again, but they are expecting a different result. It took some mighty nerve of them to suggest that this ridiculous nonsense-logic could be MORE correct than a statement that makes sense. And I DO mean Namco Bandai – note that the revision did not come from Miyazaki’s own mouth.

This is an obvious lie, and not enough people are taking the time to call it out. The people who would kill themselves and their families if unskilled gamers were allowed to beat Dark Souls are too busy celebrating. The people who really wanted to play Dark Souls and still can’t are moping about it. We’re STILL having the discussion about whether the game should be playable or not. That’s a good discussion and we should still have it, but not right now and not regarding Namco Bandai’s statement. We need to talk about something else right now.

We need to talk about trust.

When a company begins to speak on an individual’s behalf, it always means the same thing. We saw it twice already this year, with Gearbox Software having to shut John Hemingway up and Crystal Dynamics having to shut Ron Rosenberg up. I’m not lumping Miyzaki in with those other stooges, whose public displays of sexism gave away toxic attitudes at their respective workplaces. In fact, it’s depressing to me that Miyazaki got the clamp-down for saying something good. The pattern is the same, though, which is why we can compare them: an outspoken dev said something that agitated witnesses, so someone to whom said dev is beholden became their voice to prevent them from saying even more dangerous things. We all KNOW this, and we still say nothing when we see it. Then we wonder why devs think they can lie to us and get away with it. It’s because we let them.

What kills me is that our apathy goes in every direction. We don’t give a shit when we are lied to, but we don’t give a shit when we hear the truth either. Namco Bandai’s PR department could have easily told the truth without causing anyone any problems. Nobody would’ve been pissed off if they said, “We don’t care what Miyazaki wants. If he wants funding, he’ll do it our way.” Miyazaki wouldn’t have gotten pissed off, because he already knew this. The Dark Souls fans wouldn’t have gotten pissed off, because they’d just be too happy that the game won’t change. The people who wish they were Dark Souls fans would have gotten pissed off, but they’re already pissed off, so who cares?

It’s bizarre to me that stupid and incoherent lies come more naturally to the games biz than simple truth. It’s even more bizarre that the industry’s supposed critics will let this shit slide. Can we trust anyone besides ourselves?

Review: Wilton Gingerbread Haunted Mansion Kit

•September 13, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Craft store sales are the most dangerous places on the planet. You could get run over by a double-wide stroller, be crushed beneath a falling scrapbook, get lost and die of thirst in a forest of silk vase filler or suffocate in a vapor of imitation patina spray paint. You will CERTAINLY lose all the contents of your wallet. All of them. You’ll spend all your money, then offer up your car keys as collateral for a brand-new wedding invitation rubber stamping kit. But why? Why, when you aren’t even getting married? Craft stores mess with your head. They make you think half the projects in the store are things you should actually bother completing.

I know from experience that gingerbread house kits aren’t very good. Well, they’re not! The gingerbread is bland and you’re stuck with the crappy candy selection that Wilton (and it’s usually Wilton, though I know there are other brands) decides to stick you with. Thing is, even though I LOVE making gingerbread houses, I’d pretty much never make them if it wasn’t for these kits. Their convenience makes up for their blandness. The icing mixes up instantly and doesn’t make you worry that you’ll get salmonella. You don’t end up with huge bags of leftover candy that goes stale between house projects. It’s all the fun of a gingerbread house with considerably less expense in the long run! Continue reading ‘Review: Wilton Gingerbread Haunted Mansion Kit’

Today Is A Good Day

•September 8, 2012 • Leave a Comment

I have software that is easy to use and also makes my life easier.

I loathe Windows. You can’t have a low bullshit tolerance like I do and NOT loathe Windows. It’s a terrible clusterfuck of an operating system. Unfortunately, a lot of the best software is and always will be Windows-exclusive. That includes Sai Paint Tool, which was godly enough to make putting up with Windows on a work machine worthwhile. Its speed, versatility and ease-of-use are unique among software, let alone drawing software. It is the standard by which any program should be judged. When programmers die, the jackal-headed lord of the dead will weigh their works against Sai Paint Tool and cast those whose programs outweigh it into the mouths of crocodiles. It’s that fucking good.

My search for a Mac-native alternative to Sai was long and depressing. There were a lot of disappointments. I don’t want to get specific because then I’ll go on a rant, so I’ll just say that open source fuckheads can go crawl into thirty holes and die. I was starting to think there’d never be a real alternative to Sai. This year, however? There are TWO! I won’t get into CLIP Paint Lab because its English support isn’t ready for prime time yet. Until that day comes, there’s FireAlpaca. I should probably be really suspicious of FireAlpaca because it’s free, it came out of nowhere and I have no idea who makes it. That’s the kind of prize that makes you worry that a box’ll drop over your head when you try to grab it, you know?

I’ll go over what isn’t good about it just to get that out of the way. I don’t like that shortcuts can’t be remapped. I want to map the eyedropper to right-click, and I can’t do that. I don’t like that selecting part of the canvas doesn’t automatically turn the cursor into the ‘move’ tool. I have to choose a separate tool in order to move selections when it could easily be just one step. The eraser is a little weird. It doesn’t seem to erase gradually enough. Like, one pass with the eraser will be too little and the second pass will be way too much. You also cannot edit brushes beyond maximum width and opacity. I want the ability to change brush textures, but even more importantly? I want the ability to adjust minimum brush width. It’s easier to lay flat colors with a brush that doesn’t taper at all. And speaking of laying flat colors, the fill tool leaves over too much blank space.

That’s what sux. So, what rox?

1) LINE ART. FireAlpaca lays lines down so butter-smoothly that I don’t even miss Sai’s vector properties like I thought I would. Exquisite, exquisite lines.

2) EASY-TO-USE INTERFACE. I think a simple manual ought to be included, but I was still able to get by without one. Every time I had a problem finding a feature, I solved the problem really quickly.

3) SNAP FUNCTION. I needed to use a template file to make perfectly straight comic panels in Sai, which doesn’t have any kind of built-in guide for line direction. FireAlpaca’s grid lets me make perfect panels without having to keep an extra file around. The snap tool also has settings for diagonals and radials, which are useful for building perspective grids.

4) THE PALETTE. I was annoyed by how FireAlpaca’s palette requires so many steps to add to it or remove from it… at first. When I remembered how often I’d accidentally erased or painted over Sai’s palette (a mistake that Undo could not undo), I appreciated those extra steps. The program makes sure that you’re sure you want to remove color swatches before it takes them away.

5) GRADIENTS. I really ought to learn how to blend properly rather than use this as a crutch, but I love this tool to tiny bits.

6) ADORABLE MASCOT. Considering that he’s on fire, the alpaca looks quite serene. He also has a snappy bow tie.

7) DID I MENTION IT’S FOR MACS BECAUSE HOLY BEANS, IT IS. And it’s REALLY Mac-native, not that fake kind of Mac-native that involves X11 or a bunch of Wineing and complaining. It runs properly and doesn’t lag.

All these virtues together mean I can finally take Windows off my production machine. That feels really fucking good. It also feels good to talk about software without having to spit thunder at its developers. I hope the tag I came up with to correspond to such talks gets used more than just this once. The world needs more Software That Doesn’t Hate You.

Go download FireAlpaca. If the site is slow, be patient. It’s swamped with all the people who’ve been waiting six years for it to finally exist.

———–

UPDATE: I have since figured out how to add brushes with a definite minimum width. I love this program to goddamn death.

Dark Souls: Prepare To Sting A Little Bit

•September 4, 2012 • Leave a Comment

Hey, here’s an idea! While I’m taking a break from The Player Character, why don’t I write about video games on my own blog? I haven’t done that in ages! It’s for good reasons, naturally – I don’t want to run out of good ideas when it comes to my professional writing space. The news doesn’t stop for web development, anyway. I’d like to write about this while it’s still relevant.

“This” is Dark Souls director Hidetaka Miyazaki’s interview with Metro, in which he talks about a potential easy mode for the legendarily insanely brutally cruel and unforgiving game. When asked how he feels about Dark Souls’s reputation, he was… surprisingly negative about it. He’d prefer that people think of his games as “satisfying rather than difficult.” Regarding people like me, who will never play the game as it is, he said “This fact is really sad to me and I am thinking about whether I should prepare another difficulty that everyone can complete or carefully send all gamers the messages behind our difficult games.” He also identifies hindrance as a possible characteristic that makes games less worthwhile to play and notes that if games are trending towards being easier, then difficulty may not in fact be related to what makes games appealing. Read the thing yourself. I can barely believe he said it, either.

I don’t even need to explain WHY this threw me for a loop, right? Dark Souls‘s slogan is “prepare to die.” Discussions about Dark Souls focus on its difficulty to the exclusion of anything else, like the characters or even the plot. Everyone is preparing to die, and nobody will say what for! As far as I could tell, difficulty is the only reason to play it. I’ve heard good things about the atmosphere, but not that the atmosphere is special – in fact, one of the most common defenses of Dark Souls‘s difficulty from its fans is that if people don’t like it, they should play a different game instead. So, what, there’s nothing irreproducible about Dark Souls? There’s no heartrending story or thought-provoking message or, I dunno, a totes adorbz animal mascot that no other game has? Well, awesome for me! It means I don’t have to feel like I’m missing anything by ignoring the game.

It never, ever occurred to me that the team at From Software might be disappointed about this. I assumed that they were like Team Ninja or like their own fanbase, and thought of Dark Souls’s non-difficulty-related attributes as being a prize intended only for the worthy. I mean, how could it be any other way? When you lock content behind a difficulty barrier, many players will refuse to play and many players who don’t refuse won’t stick with it. That’s inevitable! You can’t have it both ways; you can’t be inflexible about difficulty and then get upset when the hard work you put into a world goes unnoticed. Well, you CAN, but it looks pretty stupid.

I found it hard to believe that Miyazaki was dense enough to not realize this sooner. It’s much easier to believe that he likes how success tastes and has decided he wants more – maybe he just got his first solid gold yacht, but came up a few credits short when he went to buy a team of strapping young mermen to pull it for him. I really WANTED him to be sincere about wanting lots of people to be able to play because, fuck, that is a mission statement that every fucking game developer needs to have hammered through their skulls and tattooed on their genitals. Fortunately, this is one of those things I can fact-check! I didn’t have to wander and wonder; I could Google other interviews he’d done and see what Miyazaki said about difficulty in the past.

As it turned out, the man has always said that difficulty is incidental to Dark Souls. In this interview with G4 from September of 2011, Miyazaki states that he did not want to make “…a difficult game for the sake of simply making a difficult  game – our goal is to deliver that immense feeling of satisfaction you get when you conquer something incredibly tough.” He repeated that sentiment two months later for Game Informer, saying that “…setting a high level of difficulty was to make players feel a sense of accomplishment, not to simply make players suffer.” It’s the same as what he said in the interview with Metro a year later. His position has been consistent for at least a year. I understand it, now. What I’d heard and believed about Dark Souls is that its purpose is to be difficult. That is incorrect. Its purpose is to make people feel triumphant when they complete challenges. Making the game fuckballs difficult was just the only way Miyazaki could think of to make that work. If being fuckballs difficult is preventing some people from getting the good feelings he wants them to have, then it isn’t working and it is reasonable for him to look for alternatives.

When I looked at people’s responses to a possible easy mode, I was unsurprised to see a huge negative reaction from the usual gang of hardcore elitist shitbats who can’t stand it when people who aren’t great at games get to have fun with them anyway. Naturally, there were a lot of people saying that an easy mode would violate the purpose of Dark Souls. I knew they were wrong, but I thought they were only wrong in the moral sense that it is wrong to want to prevent other people from doing as they wilt, an it harm none. I didn’t realize that they were also just plain factually wrong, that the game’s director is on record stating that being hard is not the point. I can’t blame anyone – “anyone” being a category that includes myself – who made that mistake, though. The Souls franchise speaks louder than words, and what it says is “lol noobz GTFO.” Hearing that the point of the game is the feeling you get when you win it comes off as an insult to people who can’t win it. Being told that difficulty isn’t the point sounds false when there is no attempt at ameliorating the difficulty. Why is Miyazaki only considering an easy mode now? How did this never come up before? These are mysteries.

Still, this is EXCELLENT news. I’m always happy to hear about a developer trying to make their games more accessible. I never expected Dark Souls to be on the table for such a change, but that was because I was ignorant. I’m glad I did my research. I really hope people are reading this – I think it’s important that more people realize that an easy mode is consistent with Hidetaka Miyazaki’s true goals for his games. And don’t worry, hardcore gamers! Even if Dark Souls gets an easy mode, Battletoads will always be there for you.

Archaeology: The Body Shop Refreshing Bergamot Body Spritzer

•August 30, 2012 • 24 Comments

Some perfumes can age in the fashion that wine does. Time will deepen their character. Returning to them after a long wait is better than rediscovering an old treasure – it’s finding new treasures inside the old ones. Such perfumes, delightful to begin with, will become downright precious.

This is not one of those perfumes.

Calling the Refreshing Bergamot Body Spritzer (henceforth to be known as the Bergamot Spritzer) a “perfume” is a stretch in itself. It’s an aromatherapy body splash. Smelling nice isn’t really crucial to aromatherapy! What matters is that the constituent essential oils create a shift in the brain, not that they form an evocative composition. The Bergamot Spritzer happened to be a damn pleasant composition anyway, when it was new. Bergamot was the star note in a blend of citrus and citrus-scented grass oils that got some complexity from oakmoss and patchouli. It was more than just a refreshment! It reminded me of an even more casual O de Lancome – a marvelous pick-me-up that was more interesting than just rubbing oneself with lemon peels.

So, when were these fine ol’ days when the Bergamot Spritzer was good? I figured my bottle was about a decade old. I Googled around to check, and sure enough, product reviews for it date back to 2000-2003. Nine years would be about the youngest. If this was a regular perfume, that wouldn’t be cause for alarm. I have some perfumes that were bought in the 80’s that I wouldn’t slap the Archaeology label on because they’re as good as (or better than) they ever were. Aromatherapy body splashes aren’t made like standard perfume, though. They’re made only with essential oils, water, alcohol and emulsifiers. Missing from the list is preservatives. Citrus oils are especially unstable. The only thing standing between the heaping helping of sweet orange and bergamot oils in the Bergamot Spritzer and a ghastly descent into decay was the oakmoss – and while oakmoss has fixative properties, it isn’t a miracle worker.

I didn’t know about fragrance shelf-lives back then. I knew that the Bergamot Spritzer smelled absolutely fantastic and that I would be unlikely to get more. Then it was discontinued, and I knew I would never get more. My hoarding instincts kicked in – those are like herding instincts, but with inanimate objects instead of other people – and I rationed the HELL out of my one bottle. Then I forgot where I put it. Time marched on, as time tends to do. When I found it again, I still didn’t use it right away. I don’t remember when I finally realized I need to use my perfumes instead of just leave them to die alone in their storage box. It still took me a while to get to the Bergamot Spritzer after that, would you believe it? I learn lessons hard.

Finally, I got the damn thing out and sprayed it on. At first, it just had that “old perfume” smell that lots of cheap fragrances develop. Then, with all the force and warning of a bolt from the blue: piss. Stale piss. Lots of it. The unmistakable smell of a public toilet, complete with a note of citrus cleanser from a long-deserted attempt at cleaning it. I can appreciate bodily fluid notes in their time and place, but this was off the goddamn wall. The fragrance improved with some drying time, but that doesn’t mean much when you start as badly as this did. “Improved” in this case means it stopped smelling like stale piss and started smelling just plain stale. There was a hint of what the Bergamot Spritzer used to smell like in the drydown, squirming behind a thick layer of dust. Then it just died out, which is probably for the best. Do I even need to say that this was not refreshing? I did not feel refreshed by this. You can’t always believe a name when you read it.

It is a damn shame that the Bergamot Spritzer couldn’t age gracefully. I mean it; it was fantastic stuff back in the day. If I could live the bottle over again, I wouldn’t try to keep it. I’d use it, enjoy it and not regret it when it ran out. I think I regret letting it go to waste through age much more than I’d have regretted actually using it. The subway toilet experience isn’t one I wanted to bring home with me.