Mega Man 9

Mega Man 9 is coming.  It’s not only going to be on Wiiware but it’s going to use NES style graphics.  Yes, you read that correctly.  A new NES-style Mega Man game is coming.    When I get a chance, I’ll follow this up with some thoughts on the series and where I think this game needs to go to succeed.  But for the moment just revel in the fact that there is another Mega Man game coming.

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Metal Review: Watershed by Opeth

Progressive music, whether it’s prog rock or prog metal, is an oddity. The genre (if it can even be called that) is definitely an acquired taste. Songs tend to be on longer side (some might say longer than absolutely necessary) and they usually incorporate a wide variety of musical sources. Call it what it is: a mish-mash of music. Weird time signatures and crazy instruments from 15th century Asia are the status quo. Why play that solo on a guitar when you can play it on a lute? But for all of the excesses that prog has given us over the years, it can frequently be a satisfying style of music. The bands in the genre tend to be both intellectual and musically talented. And they have produced some stunning works of art over the years (see Rush).

Continue reading “Metal Review: Watershed by Opeth”

A different singularity

Ferrante and I have a lot of shared interests.  Video games, music, music games, and scifi/fantasy to name a few.  But we’re individuals and of course we have our differences.  He’s got comics; I’ve got sports.  He sports a full beard, while my facial hair is more akin to that of a middle schooler.  And he’s got computers, while I’ve got science.  I’m not saying I’m not computer literate.  I am.  But I can’t (also won’t) make my own computer.  Full control over the GHZ or whatnot is outside the realm of things I need from the machine I’m currently typing on.  Hell, the Dell laptop I’m using has a broken graphics card fan that makes a high pitched whining noise sometimes.  Most computer nerds would probably have a seizure over that.  Anyway, I fill the void left by lack of computer skills with science.

Fortunately, science and computer technology are not too terribly far apart (hence the name computer science?).  And they’re getting closer all the time.  So sometimes we have a meshing of our individual fields, like when scientists start using bacteria for problem solving. The method is pretty cool.  They inserted a plasmid carrying mixed up pieces of an antibiotic resistance gene into E. Coli.  They then inserted a Salmonella enzyme to randomly flip genetic material, waited for a bit, and exposed the E. Coli to antibiotics.  Any bacteria that survived would have had to form the entire resistance gene, thus “solving” the problem.  I’d be interested to know where they go next with this kind of technology.  Clearly the DNA computing system they’ve created can solve certain problems much faster than a normal PC.  But the obvious problem is priming the system so that it actually solves the problem.  You have to put in the plasmid/enzyme/etc that’s akin to the code for a computer program.  The more complex problems you want to solve with bacteria the more “stuff” you have to prime the system with and, as every scientists knows, there are always consequences of putting foreign materials into living things.

On the other hand, I’m looking forward to a day when I try to calculate something in Excel and my computer transfects bacteria to do it.

Hypochondriacs FTW

John Timmer over at Arstechnica has an good rundown from the World Science Festival.  Specifically, he summarizes a panel about the prospects of genetic testing.  Not like the simple genotyping currently done to see if patients are carrying mutations or markers for a select few disorders but whole genome scans, producing a vast array of information for multiple phenotypes.  The holy grail of genomics is a scenario in which your DNA can be easily and quickly sequenced, risk factors in your genetic code identified, and therapies prescribed.  Clearly that scenario does not currently exist.  All the panelists agreed on one thing: genetic testing hasn’t gotten to a point where it’s a viable basis for treatments.  And I completely agree with that.  Right now the technology does little more than provide hypochondriacs lots of stuff to worry about.

The problem I have is the negative vibe that comes across from some of the panel.  Sure, running a SNP chip on your DNA right now would accomplish practically nothing.  The chip would be laughably incomplete and you’d only be getting a test for the fraction of disease-related SNPs that we’ve identified.  That doesn’t mean the technology should be shunned or put down.  You have to crawl before you can walk, other trite phrases, etc.   Technology is an exponentially growing field.  And as the gaps in our knowledge base get filled in, we’ll be able to provide better and better diagnoses for patients.  Each individual marker or polymorphism may only be a tiny piece of information when determining disease risk.  If I have a G instead of a T somewhere, maybe I have a 0.5% higher risk of getting Disease X.  But putting together a large number of them forms a foundation for a quality prediction.  Now you’ve got the genotype for hundreds or even thousands of revelant points in the genome.  And their benefit is exponential as we learn not only how they relate to risk by themselves but in conjunction with the other polymorphisms.  We may never reach the holy grail scenario I mentioned earlier (possibly because of environmental factors) but the potential is still there and that’s a reason for optimism.  Besides…if we don’t push forward with genetic testing the hypochondriacs will be stuck in the past, using WebMD to diagnose themselves with various ailments.  Won’t somebody please think of the hypochondriacs!?

I cast magic missile on the darkness

So as all true nerds know, 4th Edition for D&D is on the horizon.  I’m not precisely sure what all of the new features and changes will be.  (I do know that grappling is on the list though.  Presumably the changes will make is so that grappling is no longer the equivalent of a cleveland steamer in both enjoyment and usefulness.  This might be achieved by limiting the amount of dice rolls needed to less than the current number, which gets dangerously close to that of Amedeo Avogadro.)  Regardless, those changes are probably best covered by other, more knowledgeable, people on this site.  I’m just here to talk about the advertising.

Wizards of the Coast apparently approached the guys from PvP and Penny Arcade and asked them to do something cool to advertise the game.   Being webcomics, the fact that comic strips/panels were part of the end product isn’t particularly suprising.  But the comics are really just supplementing a pretty interesting advertising campaign.  They just played the game.  Wizards literally just provided a DM and everyone played 4th edition while a camera was recording the action.  The podcasts are being put up on the Wizards site each week and apparently it covers a lot of the new changes in the gameplay.  I haven’t gotten a chance to check it out yet so I don’t know if the result is something enjoyable or tediously boring.  But any attempt to sell a product by actually showing the audience the product in question rather than through the gaming industry’s normal smoke and mirrors routine is worthwhile endeavor.

Bring on the cyborg future

It’s always good to end the week with the knowledge that our society is that little bit closer to creating our cyborg overlords.  From Dean Kamen (the guy who brought you the Segway scooter) comes “Luke”, a robotic arm controlled by a series of pressure pads and other controls.  In addition to being just plain badass and a far more useful display of Kamen’s technological genius than the Segway,  it movies us one creepy step further into cyborg territory.  Soon this king of technology will pave the way for the true cyborgs who will inevitably rely on eugenics in an attempt to perfect their remaining human components while forcing the rest of us to do their bidding.

But wait, you say…there’s a huge flaw in this plan.  Everyone knows that cyborg software technology often warps the human brain, turning the “person” into a promiscuous nymphomaniac.  How will the cyborgs keep from diluting the gene pool of their robotic master race?  An Australian research team found the simple answer: remote controlled implants that can block the vas deferens.  Now these horrible combinations of man and machine can hump anything that will sit still long enough and not have to worry about pregnancy unless they decide to allow it.   And as a huge added benefit, they can install them in the rest of us non-cyborgs to keep our population under control.  Leave it to Australians to mess up our only hope: overpowering them with sheer numbers.

Samba de Amigo

The videogame industry as a whole as always loved the idea of the “peripheral”.  The Power Pad, the Zapper, R.O.B.  Dance pads, guitars, this monstrosity.  All of this, of course, flies in the face of reason since the vast majority of peripherals fail horribly and those that do succeed in the short term are inevitably reduced to hat racks because future games don’t support them.  Companies are always moving on to the next peripheral once interest in the current one winds down because they’re stuck trying to ride hype for sales instead of creating a reliable, future-proof product.  Most of the games using these peripherals are never revisited.

Samba de Amigo was one of those games.  It’s hard to top maracas and trippy looking monkeys in a music game for pure originality (and ridiculousness).  And based on the fact that there’s not a particularly large built-in market for maraca games, it seemed unlikely that the series would be revived after the Dreamcast died.  But fortunately for us somebody working at the husk of a company we used to call Sega stood up one day and declared, “Sweet merciful crap! The Wii controller could be a maraca!”.  Initial previews from Joystiq say the game works but doesn’t feel exactly the same as the old maraca controllers.  My own experiences with the Wii remote are leaving me skeptical about the ability of the games ability to read the appropriate movements.  I’m struggled through some sloppy motion detection on the system already, although I can’t tell you whether it’s from bad programming or the limitations of the controller’s hardware.  Needless to say, missing or misreading a shake of the hand in this game is going to leave a lot of music fans pissed and ruin the game entirely.

On a related note, Activision (hereafter referred to as “Sheep Inc”) saw their ready made fortune in the music industry slipping away as the Harmonix-helmed Rock Band started to seriously eat into Guitar Hero’s dominance.  And of course Sheep Inc did the only thing they could think of: they followed.  So now we’re going to have three different games (Konami’s making one too) that are remarkably similar.  Sheep Inc has practically no history of innovation and originality and it’s only gotten worse in recent years.  Harmonix suckered them completely.  They built up the number one music franchise, sold it for tons of money, and then quickly knocked it off the mountaintop with something new and better.  Sheep Inc is going to feel pretty stupid when all they can think to do is add two cymbals to the drum kit while Harmonix continues to basically print money by truly pushing the genre forward.

Hive Mind

I’d say this technology is at least worth checking out.  About 2/3 of the way into the video, the guy shows off a composite model of the Notre Dame cathedral.  The model was designed using pictures from Flickr.  That’s awesome enough to border on the absurd.  There’s some other cool things in the presentation but, as one of the many people who is computer literate but has no in-depth knowledge of computers, I have no concept of what kind of power these processes entail.  Having gigabytes of pictures all up at once so that you can navigate and zoom smoothly doesn’t seem like the kind of thing my Dell laptop can do.

Retro Review: NHL ’94 (Sega Genesis)

I’ve spent (or wasted, depending on your viewpoint) a significant percentage of my life playing videogames. And while there’s always some newly purchased game serving as the flavor of the week, most of my gaming time has been spent on a relatively small number of games. And with the NHL playoffs in full swing, it’s the perfect time to give you five good reasons to play one of them: NHL ’94.

Reason 1: Simple and effective controls. There’s only three face buttons on the normal Genesis controller: A, B, and C. And this particular game can really be played with just B (pass) and C (shoot/check) if you don’t feel like the dumping the puck in or changing lines. Sure, there’s a little bit of depth with one timers and wrist shots vs slapshots but in the end it’s just a couple of buttons. Fast forward to 2008 and sports games are pretty much dead to me.  I don’t want to play a simulation (unless the name is a hilarious misnomer) and that’s what the sports genre has inevitably pushed towards.  Now if you want to play sports game, you have to deal with a control scheme that’s more complex than Splinter Cell.  Do I need a button dedicated to blocking the puck during a shot?  Not particularly.  Apparently the EA team responsible for Madden thinks I need a “pump up the crowd” button.  They are wrong.  The only remaining hope is that Nintendo’s lust for leveraging the Mario brand (read: milking) by combining it with any and all activities will result in Mario Hockey and provide us with quality and simple arcade controls.

Reason 2: Quality animations. For its time, NHL ’94 had some excellent animations. Goalies dive and slide to make kicks. The players skate pretty well. But it’s not the normal stuff that makes this one of the five reasons to get this game. It’s the unique animations that show you somebody working on this game cared. If you check a guy near the bench, he’ll fold up over the wall and then fall back onto the ice. If you stop really fast, ice will actually spray up. There’s the elusive “shattered glass” scenario where the puck breaks the glass behind the goal. I’ve only had this happen to me once in my ridiculous number of hours playing the game. But my personal favorite (and the reason why I made this it’s own category) is that if you look closely, players will take one hand off their stick and swat at a puck that’s in the air near them. I don’t even know if the game is programmed so that they can make contact with the puck in that scenario but someone drew the sprites and somebody coded the animation anyway. Sweet deal.

Reason 3: Organ music. Organ music is dying out at most sporting venues. The Flyers have a great organist in David May and he gets to solo sometimes during the intermissions. Still, he’s not use nearly enough during the actual game and the replacement music is usually mediocre pop-rock. So for all of the people who’ve had their Mexican Hat Dance and Hava Nagila taken from them, this game has your back.

Reason 4: Anaheim Mighty Ducks. After playing this game for so long, you pick up lots of cheap ways to score that exploit the game design. You can loop around behind the goal, cause a defenseman to run his own goalie and grab an easy wraparound. Or on breakaways you can just drift to the side while shooting to the opposite post. The goalies never figure it out (probably because their AI is just slightly more advanced than the standard Goomba). Eventually crushing the computer becomes boring and you have to handicap yourself to bring the challenge back to a reasonable level. Enter the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. This was the year that Disney came up with the second greatest marketing idea ever (here’s the best): buy a major sports team and use that to promote movies about a fake sports team. As an expansion team, the Ducks completely got the shaft in NHL ’94. See, back in 1994 it was hard to distinguish player qualities like “puck handling” and “checking” because the games were so simplistic. So the easiest way to separate good and bad teams was to make the bad teams slower…everyone on the bad teams…even the fast players. The result is a Ducks team that looks like they’re wading through quicksand while the Red Wings of the world make a line change and still have enough time to stop your breakaway. The ability to handicap yourself (aka choosing a different difficulty level) gives this game added replay value (albeit in one of the goofiest ways possible).

Reason 5: Unsportsmanlike Conduct. In contact sports, hitting someone after the play is over is generally considered a bad thing. The primary reason is that the person assumes the play is over (he’s correct in this assumption) and then he gets blind sided. Well video games have always been about escapism and being able to do things you can’t do in real life. And NHL ’94 wasn’t programmed to punish extracurricular activities. Give up a goal? Check that lucky jerk into the boards. Score a game winner? See if you can knock down all five players from the opposing team before the game switches to the box score. You should buy this game just for the ability to duel with a friend after every goal scored.

Note from Mike:Check out this review of the NHL ’94 Manual from 10 Cent Freeze Pops.