Posts Tagged 'Nintendo'

Computer Games

Story time. If you want to skip to the interesting list at the end, go right ahead. I’m in the typing mood though so I’m about to tell you my entire life story as it relates to gaming.

English: A NES console with the Super Mario Br...

English: A NES console with the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt game (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve always loved video games. My grandpa was kind enough to donate his Nintendo Entertainment System to my parents when I was very young, probably after we visited him once or twice and he saw how the machine captivated my brother and me. I must have been five years old (plus or minus the standard deviation for my poor memory).

Super Mario Bros, The Legend of Zelda, Baseball, Duck Hunt, Gumshoe, Master Blaster, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Marble Madness, Captain Skyhawk, and many more games filled the earliest years of my memory.

Then, after much entreatment from my brother and me, we got a Sega Genesis for Christmas, and years later a Nintendo 64. I believe my grandfather may have had a financial hand in one or both of those acquisitions as well.

Our time with those game systems shaped who we are. My brother is now lucky enough to work for a small but well-known game development company and I… well, I make useless JavaScript toys in my free time.

As a part of my interest in games, teenager me wanted to become a 3D artist. To this day I work plenty in 3D and the skills I gained in my teens will forever benefit me. However, in support of my quest to learn 3D modeling my parents loaned me the money to buy a PC (circa 1998, plus or minus whatever my memory is wrong about). I got my first job to pay my parents back. I was 15.

Anyhow, the computer I got worked for very limited 3D work (renderings took forever and often never finished due to hard drive crashes or other terrible mishaps), and it also allowed me to try my hand at PC gaming for the first time.

I had tried a couple of very simple games on my father’s Power Mac, but these PC games were entirely different. I can’t remember everything I played (I’ve spent quite a bit of time in bursts of nostalgia trying to hunt down those games), but a few of them were Jane’s Advanced Tactical Fighters, Descent, Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee, Blastdoors, Return Fire 2, Mech Warrior, and Gravity Well.

Unfortunately my PC was junk and barely ran most of those games. I had no idea that games could actually be played at more than five frames a second. I thought all PC games were supposed to be choppy and slow. Then I tried a few games on a friend’s computer and everything changed. He had built his machine for speed. He had one of those things called a graphics card.

When I went to college several years later I made sure my computer had a graphics card. I was going to be studying 3D animation and I knew I’d need some serious power. So I got a mid-level desktop replacement laptop (this would have been sometime around 2003). It had a whole 512 MB of ram, and an NVIDIA graphics card with several MB of dedicated graphics memory (I don’t remember how much).

Despite all of this raw power, I didn’t really get back into computer gaming. I played a few games here and there, but for some reason I forgot all about what a good graphics card did for PC gaming. I still remembered playing Return Fire 2 at 5 FPS with the textures and effects turned off, and I think that left the impression that PC gaming was inferior to console gaming.

Eventually I got married and that laptop became an aging family computer. After one particularly hefty tax return when my wife and I didn’t have any major purchases in mind we decided to get a new (first generation) HP TouchSmart computer. Our young son would be able to have so much fun on the touch screen, we thought, and since the mouse was on its way out as an archaic technology we figured it was time to introduce our child to the future (right?).

That computer lasted us several years, but eventually the integrated graphics burned out and rendered the entire motherboard useless. I salvaged the hard drive, but we needed a new computer.

Once again, with a new baby girl, we decided that a touch screen would be handy. We now knew that the computer mouse was here to stay, but babies do better with touch screens. Plus, the second generation of TouchSmart PCs had been out for a while, and there was a model with a graphics card. So we got that one.

English: HP Touchsmart PC. With Rob Miles using it

English: HP Touchsmart PC. With Rob Miles using it (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, with an actual graphics card, I was ready to start playing computer games again. I started with emulators (I’m a sucker for nostalgia), but eventually installed Steam and got a game (Super Meat Boy, at my brother’s suggestion). I figured my fancy new graphics card should be able to handle the latest 2D game. Well, I was disappointed to discover that my system choked a little on that 2D game. I eventually figured out that, on the lowest settings, I could run a few modern games, but with serious restrictions and difficulties.

I played through Portal, but Portal 2 was a little too much for my system (I did eventually play through it, but with the graphics all turned down to the lowest settings again). I played Mount and Blade with all the settings configured for a crappy system. I played Minecraft comfortably for a while, but in the last few months my system began sputtering even on that game.

Unfortunately that computer lasted a full two years and some change. Though I knew we couldn’t afford to just replace it, I always secretly hoped it would die so that we could start looking for a way to pay for a new computer.

Well, a couple of weeks ago I got my wish, and, thankfully, we were financially prepared for it. My wife had gotten into a few of those computer games with me, and she agreed that it was time to get something that would comfortably play most of the games we wanted to play. We both knew we weren’t going to spend thousands on the best hardware available, but we didn’t want to have to play Mount and Blade at less than 30 FPS with all the textures and effects on the lowest settings.

I’m not saying what I got because the purpose of this post is not to open my system up for criticism. I want to talk about games.

As someone who has had to turn down the opportunity to play any new PC games for several years, there is a whole list of games I haven’t been able to play and I’m looking forward to playing on my new computer. I’ve got the list divided into three parts. The first part is stuff that’s out now and I need or want to play it (according to me). The second part of the list consists of games that I’m interested in but they aren’t out yet (I’ve backed a few of them on Kickstarter and will be getting the full game when released). The final part is for suggestions. A coworker suggested a few games, but I want you to help me add to the list.

I realize that not all of these games require a modern graphics card, but my poor graphics card made me disinterested in PC gaming for so long that I skipped over a lot of games that I was interested in. Add your suggestions in the comments!

Part 1: Games Available Now that I Want to Play

Part 2: Games Coming Soon that I’m Interested In

Part 3: Suggestions of Games to Play

  • Bioshock
  • Halflife 2
  • Black Mesa
  • Stalker
  • Dwarf Fortress

Again, add your suggestions in the comments. I’ll look into the game and if it’s pertinent to my interests I’ll add it to my list. Also, if you see any games in my lists that you think are not worth spending money or time on them, let me know your reasons (don’t just say, “Don’t play that awful game!”). I’ll take them into consideration, and if you’ve got a good point I’ll skip over that game. Thanks!

Me and My Android 2.0

 

Android

Meet Android

So, tomorrow’s the big day. I’ve taken the whole day off work. I’ve identified the Verizon Store I’ll be making my purchase at and I know that they’ll be opening at 7:00 am (three hours earlier than usual). I’ve called and crunched all the numbers with a Verizon Wireless “plan expert.” I’m going to show up at the store early (even before their 7:00 AM opening time). Every detail has been considered, processed and addressed.

 

The next question is, will I even like my new Motorola Droid?

I’ve hunted across the net and found mostly raving, shining reviews. There are a few iPhone fanboys and enthusiasts that are shrugging the Droid off (or worse), but for the most part the reviews are glowing. Many people have tried to call the Droid an “iPhone Killer,” but I agree with those who don’t even bother pitting the Droid against the iPhone. We’re talking about two completely separate demographics in the same market. Think Nintendo Wii versus Playstation 3. While they may technically share the same market, the numbers prove that the demographics are so wildly different that they might as well not even be competing against each other.

I think my favorite review so far isn’t about the Droid specifically, but about its operating system, Android 2.0. I found it on Gizmodo, a site I generally get news from through other sources. In this case, Matt Buchanan writes one of the most objective, comprehensive and even stinging reviews of the Android operating system I’ve ever read. Halfway through the article I questioned my decision to buy the Droid this Friday. If you have been considering buying an Android phone, make sure you don’t miss this review.

His conclusion? Keeping his audience in mind (remember, the site is called “Gizmodo”), he says, “I can’t say Android 2.0 is ready for your mom yet, but it’s definitely ready for anybody reading this.”

For one of my favorite aspects of the Android operating system, read this one about its integration with Google services.

Essentially, for someone like me whose life is already nearly fully integrated with the services Google offers (Gmail, Google Talk, Google Calendar, Google Voice, Google Contacts, Google Maps… the list goes on), the Google build of the Android operating system seamlessly synchronizes the online Google services with a device that you carry in your pocket. No more forgotten appointments. No more separate phone/address lists. Everything consolidates nicely into the Google package and I slip it into my pocket. Sure, Android has shortcomings. The Droid may not be the ultimate cellular device, and its hardware may even be lacking in a few areas. But I know that the Google Android branded Motorola Droid is a perfect match for me.

Why? Mostly because I already know I don’t want an iPhone.

Review: Pokémon Diamond (Game for Nintendo DS)

Game Cover

Game Cover

I first played the original Pokémon Red and Yellow versions for the old Game Boy system many years ago and fell in love with the simple RPG style game play, cute Pokémon creatures, and the ability to link up with my brother to trade and battle Pokémon. I felt that 150 different species Pokémon were more than enough though, and stayed away from the subsequent iterations of Pokémon games out of a fear that the addition of more Pokémon and more things to do would complicate things and take away from the elegant simplicity of those first Pokémon games. Plus, I grew up and decided that the whole Pokémon thing was a little childish.

For anyone who hasn’t played Pokémon before, see below for an in-depth look at what is so fun about it (for adults and children). If you’ve played older Pokémon games but aren’t sure about this one, you’re in the same position I was when I got my DS.

In Diamond (and Pearl) there were many new ideas for me: berries and poffins (not new to those who have played Pokémon on the Game Boy Advance), seals to decorate Pokéballs (I guess, though I haven’t gotten into it much), more in-depth relationships with your Pokémon, contests (kind of like beauty pageants, but for Pokémon), an underground cave system for use with wireless multiplayer, and many other things I can’t even think of because I don’t use them. That’s right, even though they went and complicated the game by adding stuff, you can still enjoy the basic game the same way you could back with the first games. These additions only add to the experience for those who wish to participate in them.

There are other enhancements as well. The interface for navigating menus, viewing information, and battling has improved drastically (especially since there are two screens on the DS), and they have finally incorporated some true 3D elements (mainly just in the environment, the characters are all still 2D sprites).

While this version may not represent a huge leap forward in the Pokémon series, it certainly does take a few steps forward, and no steps back. Anyone who has ever enjoyed another Pokémon game will appreciate Pokémon Diamond (or Pearl), and anyone who has never played a Pokémon game would do well to give this game a chance. Pokémon may not be for everyone, but many have fallen in love with these simple RPGs, including me.

If you’ve never played Pokémon, allow me an opportunity to sell you on the idea. It turns out many adults can enjoy this sort of thing as well as children (even if the story is a bit childish).

Pokémon are creatures that inhabit the land in the Pokémon games. In Japan, the game is called “Pocket-Monsters” (I believe). The first generation of Pokémon came around the time that virtual pets were becoming popular, so essentially these Pokémon were modeled after the virtual pet concept (just without the little buttons for “feed” and “clean up mess”).

In the Pokémon games, you become a Pokémon trainer – someone who catches and trains Pokémon to battle. Though the monsters battle, the loser simply runs out of energy (measured in HP – health points) and faints – nothing ever happens that is graphic or unfriendly to children.

As you wander around the game (not aimlessly, there is always something to do), you encounter more and more monsters and use special capturing balls (Pokéballs) to catch more Pokémon (you may recall the catchphrase – “gotta catch ’em all”). You battle your Pokémon against other wild Pokémon or against those of other Pokémon trainers and any Pokémon on the winning team that participated in the battle gets experience points (and the trainer gets money to spend on stuff for the Pokémon). As they grow in experience they level up, learn new moves, and sometimes they evolve into more powerful Pokémon. In this way you raise the most powerful team of Pokémon to win every battle and become a Pokémon Master (lame, I know).

The trick is that you can only carry six Pokémon with you at a time (the rest are stored in a computer system), so you must assemble a team that is diverse enough to tackle any foe. There are many kinds of Pokémon (flying type, fire type, water type, electric type, etc) and some are more effective against others. Most of the time, these pairings make sense – a water type Pokémon does very well against a fire type for example. The same goes for the individual moves they know (one Pokémon can not know any more than four moves to use in battle at a time).

The basic formula is simple, easy to understand, and allows for a lot of strategic consideration. The execution in the game is challenging (but not too hard), fun and great for multi-player experiences. From the beginning, the franchise has focused on allowing game pack owners to trade Pokémon and battle them with friends. These days, on the Nintendo DS, trading and battling other Pokémon players has never been easier. There are no cables, and you can even connect over the Internet.

A lot of people criticize that the story in every Pokémon game is basically the same, but that is what I love about them (not that I wouldn’t enjoy a departure from the formula). You start out some place where there is someone that wants you to go out and see/catch all of the local kinds of Pokémon and you are given a starter Pokémon. There are side missions, caves, an evil group/entity at every turn, other trainers, and of course your rival to deal with, in addition to gyms, badges (earned by defeating gym leaders) and the Elite Four. The above description is good for basically every Pokémon game (as I understand it, though I haven’t played ALL of them).

A final note for those who are not familiar with the Pokémon franchise: You may be asking yourself what the difference is between Pokémon Diamond and Pearl. Simply put, there isn’t enough of a difference for you to worry about it. Since the first two were released (Red and Blue) they have always released Pokémon in pairs (with the exception of an occasional special edition – Yellow was a special Pikachu edition, and Platinum is a special DS version with even more side features than Diamond and Pearl). Each version has a few things here or there that are marginally different, most notably there are usually a few Pokémon you cannot catch on your game pack so you must find someone else with the sister game pack and trade them for it (especially since you have some on yours that they can’t find in their game). Don’t worry though – you don’t actually have to catch all of the Pokémon to win the game – you can do it without having both game packs.

Review: Lock’s Quest (Game for Nintendo DS)

Summary: Surprised me…

Pros: Excellent music, great replay value, good game-play variety.

Cons: Can get monotonous, can’t skip lengthy title screens when starting the cartridge, a little frustrating at times.

 

Game Cover from Best Buy

Game Cover

This is one of those games I would never have thought to get for myself. It looked like just another run-of-the-mill RPG, but then the product description mentioned something about building fortresses and I wondered if I might like it.
You see, ever since I was a young child I have been obsessed with castles, fortresses and defensive architecture. If you’ve ever had an interest in any of those things, this game might be for you.
This game is an effective mix of some of the best elements of Desktop Tower Defense, Defend Your Castle and the Final Fantasy series. Ok, so maybe not the best elements of those games, but it’s a delightful blend of features borrowed from all of those games (or games like them).
If you’re familiar with Desktop Tower Defense, you’ll be used to ideas like building walls, slowing the advance of the enemy to give turrets more time to attack, strategically placing and strengthening offensive and defensive weapons, and using weapons that do a variety of attacks for ground or airborn enemies.
In Lock’s Quest you are an “archineer” – that’s the job title, though you’re really just a nobody from a small village – who is given the task of defending important things or people from the invading “clockwork” army. You build walls, turrets, gates, traps and many other defensive implements with the aim of defending a “source” well (source is what the people in this universe use to build things, among other nifty uses), some soldiers, or who knows what else. From there, Lock’s Quest departs from the Desktop Tower Defense model and adds some cool new features – like prototyping new weapons before being able to build them (a fun puzzle-like segment of the game), and ocasionally having to man a turret tower.
Battles are fought day by day (a system closely related to Defend Your Castle – you even see the sun travelling across the screen) and at the beginning of each day you must repair and add to your defenses. One of the best parts of the battle sequences is that you don’t have to just sit there and watch the little robot dudes tear your walls down and smash your turrets. Your character, Lock, can run around repairing damaged units and even engage in combat. Throughout the game you learn new moves for attacking (all of them simple to execute), but you must watch your health bar to avoid fainting.
There are other modes as well, such as wandering around talking to people, and a side view mode where you are manning a turret. You purchase upgrades for the turret at the end of each day, and blast enemies as they come toward the wall and attack. This portion of the game reminds me of Defend Your Castle, without being able to fling people into the air – you’re shooting at them instead.
Occasionally, navigating Lock around obstacles can be frustrating. Or sometimes I’ll tell him to repair a turret (something he usually does from inside the fortress) and he will run out through the gates instead, where he gets beat up a bit before I tell him to run back inside and try again. Otherwise, the controls are relatively natural and smooth.
Perhaps my biggest complaint comes from the title screen. Every time you start the game (as in, turn on the system and load the cartridge) you are forced to watch the opening splash screens for the companies involved in making the game. I don’t mind being shown the logos, I just like being able to rush through them so I can jump into the game. The titles don’t last all that long, but they seem to take forever when you just want to flip it on for a second to do a quick round.
I think my favorite part of the game is the music. The game-play is fun, the graphics are nice, and the controls are comfortable, and the story is ok, but I could say that about a lot of games. When was the last time you heard a video game score that really impressed you though? Zelda games usually have good music (Twilight Princess was awesome) and Final Fantasy games are usually pretty descent (Sid’s theme, anyone?) but the focus on games in the last few years has been on graphics, not music. Some big names have been called in to compose scores for a few games lately in an attempt to revitalize video game music. David Franco did the score for Lock’s Quest, and though I hadn’t really heard of him before, it looks like he’s done quite a few scores for television and has been involved with movie music for a while.
Most of the score is powerful and fun to listen to, but I feel that the music is a little hit and miss – with far more hits than misses. I think Franco lacks the polished experience of some composers, but the average game player will appreciate the work he put into Lock’s Quest. Overall, it is a pleasure to listen to, and it really adds to the experience of playing the game.
If you already know you love thinking defensively and you don’t mind fixing things that people break (sometimes over and over again), then Lock’s Quest is perfect for you. None of the battles I’ve fought so far have lasted more than five or six days, so you’ll never find yourself locked into the same old motions for more than forty five minutes, and so far I’ve won all of them. The wins don’t come too easily, but it’s not impossible – it’s just challenging. I haven’t tried the two player mode yet, so I can’t include that in my review, but overall I am glad I played this charming game for the Nintendo DS.

Sophie’s First Oreo

We’ve had a very busy last couple of months. Allow me to attempt a summary here.

It has been crazy. We traveled, we found a new job, we novelled, we did some shopping, we fed Sophie an Oreo cookie…

Photo by Rochelle – From Family Stuff

Like I said. It’s been crazy. If you check out the Family Stuff album, you’ll likely see more photos of Sophie’s first Oreo experience. One of my favorite shots is of her examining the slimy remains of one of the cookies.

Ok, poll time. I spent the entire month of November writing for NaNoWriMo and completed the first draft of a 50,000 word “novel” (really, more like half a novel in length, and far less in actual content). This site (blog thing) is decidedly not for me to post entire chapters of a mediocre first novel draft. However, I might make it available for curious eyes via DeviantArt if enough people would be interested in reading it. Please be honest, the poll is completely anonymous and I won’t be upset if nobody wants to read it (I’m not sure I really want to read it again). To be fair, it is titled “Alex” and it is a science fiction novel that would most likely appeal to teens (though they might need to be drugged or bribed to actually read the story). It contains very little of my famous witty humor, and was written with the sole goal of reaching the 50,000 word count mark.

Most likely, I’ll spend some of my writing nights going over the draft and using it as practice for some of the editing techniques I’m learning about in the various books on writing that I’ve accumulated. With a massive amount of luck and stupidity on my part, the draft may even one day find itself polished enough to not  embarrass me as much as it does today.

For those of you who haven’t followed us very closely while I wasn’t posting here for a while, our Thanksgiving trip to Arizona went really well. We had a great time and my parents were extremely gracious hosts. We all got to meet my sister’s friend (of the male variety). I found it surprisingly easy to resist throwing most of those embarrassing jokes at him. I had hoped to find it in me to ruffle him up a little, but alas – he came away unscathed. Maybe next time.

We had considered visiting other people while in Arizona, but we didn’t even get confirmation that our travel plans were approved until the last minute, and since we drove out (a 12+ hour trip) most of our vacation week was spent in the car. Eventually we do hope to visit all of our dear friends and family members (except those who live too far away for our meager world-travel budget – we’re sure you understand).

In the way of a quick update, our family is doing very well. I recently received a call about an assignment. Training begins in the early parts of January (don’t send any perishables for my birthday, I’ll be done with training sometime in March). Micah is making steady progress adjusting to school life, Sophie is making steady progress adjusting Mommy to slave life, and Mommy and Daddy are nervous about the move (we still don’t know where we’re going to be sent for this job).

Photo by Brian – From Family Stuff

Most of my time at home these days is spent laughing at Sophie (like when she climbs into the space under the sink as seen above, but then decides its too far up to get down on her own) or working on a new family project (tentatively titled, “The Family Book” – including our family mission and the system outlined below, among other things). Ok, there are plenty of other things I spend my time doing, but those are the big ones.

Our family is developing a financial system. It’s something like a reward system and an allowance all rolled into a tortilla. At school, Micah is rated by his teacher based on his performance during different class activities. He comes home with a rating of a star (excellent), happy face (only one warning, then he did better), sad face (the warning didn’t improve his behavior) or a rain cloud (his behavior was terrible). 

Under the old system, we used the Wii as our leverage to get him to keep his bed dry and his school behavior satisfactory. If he went three or more days in a row with a dry bed, he was allowed to play the Wii for any amount of time that we saw fit. Wii privileges were removed when he woke up with a wet bed. However, if he behaved well at school, he could earn up to half an hour of play time per day regardless of his bed. At the time he was rated in five different categories in the classroom, so it followed that stars and happy faces were worth six minutes each, and anything else was worth nothing. Too many rain clouds though, and he got nothing.

The new system is much cooler, in my opinion. Using a free program called InkScape I designed our own family money. When Micah gets home from school, he gets two family dollars for a dry bed, two for each star and one for each happy face (he’s been way too satisfied with happy faces lately, but that still means he was doing something wrong and the teacher had to correct him). If we catch him doing anything extraordinarily wonderful at any time, we (his parents) can hand him some family money to say thanks.

Here’s a sample of the family one dollar bill:

There are also $5, $10, and $20 nominations available.

There are also $5, $10, and $20 nominations available.

Whenever he wants, he can use his family money to purchase things from the family store (a list of available items that we have posted on the refrigerator). Among the items for sale are: minutes to play the Wii (five minutes for one family dollar), going out for a scoop of ice cream (twenty family dollars), and going out to breakfast at a restaurant with mommy or daddy (thirty five family dollars). The prized item on the list (as far as he’s concerned) is a little card I made in InkScape that entitles him to play the Wii without purchasing minutes. The card is nice, with pretty graphics and everything, and we even had it laminated. The back of the card explains:

This card entitles the holder (child) to unlimited time on the Wii (with no need to purchase additional play time) according to standards and regulations to be determined by the parents of said child.

This card may be revoked at any time by the parents based on infractions to any set household rule.

Basically: as long as you hold this card you don’t need to spend your family dollars on Wii time, but if you break any rules or wet your bed, we’re probably going to take that privilege away from you and you’ll have to save up your money to buy it back. We didn’t want the card to be impossible to get, so it only costs ten family dollars. On a really good day, he could earn two for a dry bed and he now gets three ratings from his teacher so up to six family dollars from school behavior – that’s eight family dollars a day. Even if he doesn’t have perfect days, he should have enough to buy the card after a couple of days with no problem. Although, today he only got two family dollars (two happy faces at school, a sad face and a wet bed in the morning). We gave him his own wallet to keep everything in (the money and the Wii card, when he buys it) and basically told him to treat all of this stuff like the real thing. He seemed excited, but a little depressed that he only got two dollars on his first day of doing the new program.

When Sophie gets older (old enough to count and do basic addition with some help) we’ll start her on this too. I think it’s a good introduction to money and it is a great reward system for children who can handle it. If we tried it right now with Sophie, she would eat the money. She loves eating paper. We really have to watch her lately, because anything she can tear goes directly into the mouth for consumption.

She’s been experimenting with new sounds as well, and a lot of what she says sounds like real, deliberate speech. She forms rudimentary sentences using phrases like “bite bite” which sounds more like “bye bye” combined with “mama” or “dada.” She also says “dis” (this), “dah” (that) and “I did id” (I did it). She also claps (occasionally her hands even slap together to make the traditional clapping noise, but most of her clapping is silent) and says “yeah!” Most of her expression is in her beautiful face, though, and she makes the most adorable happy sounds (lots of raspberries, grunts and squeals).

Everything she says is said with a fat, heavy tongue that causes spit to go flying everywhere and all of her attempts at “S” sound more like “SH.” Imagine our surprise, then, when she attempted to say “sit” this morning. If she hadn’t demonstrated the action immediately after saying it, we might have thought she had picked up a bad word from somewhere (though we couldn’t imagine where – nobody in our house uses words like that). Since she was already seated when she said “sit,” the only logical place to go from there was to the reclined position, which she achieved by throwing herself backward.

To demonstrate to us that she had completely mastered the word and technique, she sat back up, said “sit” (with the “SH” sound still, but a little clearer), and threw herself back to lay down again. 

To give you an idea of how I spent my November, as of right now, this entry contains roughly 1,500 words. To meet the requirement of 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo last month, I had to average at least 1,667 words a day (for thirty days) or, since I wanted to finish early, I set the goal for  myself of hitting at least 2,500 words a day. I didn’t always meet that goal, but I did finish the story a few days early and there were at least two times when I didn’t write for a few days in a row.

Well, that’s all for today. I’m sure there is more I can share, but it’s late and I want to get this posted and send out an e-mail so you all can enjoy my meaningless ramblings. Thanks for reading, and be sure to keep in touch.

Unrealistically Cute

How often do you wish technology would just deliver what it promises?

I have about had it with hardware that doesn’t do its job, broken links and slow system performance.

However, the hard work is done and I am now free to write a fun little tidbit for you all.

If you found this entry searching for anything related to:

Samus Aran

or

Super Smash Brothers Brawl

you can either continue reading (which will probably end up being entertaining and worth your time) or jump to the end for a summary and links to all the important stuff (lame).

That’s right, it’s all about a video game tonight, and special character in the game.

When I was young I loved watching cartoons and playing video games, and such activities always provide plenty of cute little girl characters to attract the straight little boys and make them want to play the game or watch the show. For example, I actually watched the Power Puff Girls because I had a little thing for Blossom.

Any time I tried a new racing game or fighting game, I wanted to be the girl just so I could watch her while I played. Obviously, I liked girls a lot then, and I still do. I married one.

Of course, just because I’m married it doesn’t mean I have to stop thinking these characters are cute.

Not long ago we purchased a new game for our Nintendo Wii. The game (some of you may be familiar with it) is Super Smash Brothers Brawl (or SSBB for short, check it out on Amazon). The game is massive, with tons of characters to play, levels to play in (even a level editor for if you get bored with the ones they made) and trophies and stickers to collect. There is an adventure mode to play that resembles older RPG style games but in the Smash Brothers game play. As with prior versions of the game, you can pause it durring the battles and move the camera around to take pictures (more on that later).

I’ve had a lot of fun playing around with the game for the last week or so, and early in my time getting to know it I found a character that I really loved.

Not only is the character a good player with nice, powerful moves to keep me winning a lot, but she happens to be rediculously and unrealistically cute. Meet Samus Aran:

As far as video game chicks go, she is the cutest one I’ve ever seen, and she’s got a big gun. I’m not usually into blond hair, but in this case it doesn’t matter. She’s got a simple face, pretty hair and a plain body (with the usual virtual enhancements to fill her out, which are not necessary but they make money).

After seeing her in the game, I realized there was probably a lot of fan art and material dedicated to her online, so I poked around just a little bit and found something that opened up a whole new world to me. The world of cosplay.

Basically, the way I understand it, cosplay is a word coming from “costume play” and it represents a whole network and community of individuals who devote a healthy (or, I’m sure sometimes unhealthy) portion of their time and effort into creating costumes and props and attending events dressed as characters from games, shows and movies all over the country and even the world.

What I found was a Samus Aran cosplayer who actually looks a lot like the real deal (only slightly more realistic). As of writing, she hasn’t updated her blog since January of this year, but here’s a link and here is a photo of her as Samus:

Isn’t she cute? Her face matches the video game character’s closer than any of the other “cosplayers” did, she’s got the big gun and her hair is just right.

I looked through some of her other photos (none were of as good a quality as this one) and saw some really sweet photos of her posing with kids at comic book conventions, hugging other video game characters and even posing next to a few real celebrities in the world of comics and anime (or at least, I thought they looked like the real people, I could be wrong).

Of course, I am not the only married man who thinks Samus is a hottie. Plenty of people absolutely worship this character and it was fun looking into their little world.

So, using the photographing feature in the game, I took some cool photos and wanted to share them. I went through the usual process of trying to get the photos off my Wii and onto the computer, but was stumped. I couldn’t just e-mail them to myself, they seemed to be an in-game item only, not viewable outside the SSBB game. There is an option to copy the pictures to an SD card in the Wii, so I tried that, but the files are stored as .bin files, not image files (.bin is used as a general file format for all kinds of random crap and is rarely meant to be opened or read by human eyes, only by the programs that made them).

That’s when I did what any nerd would do – searched the web to see if and how other people were doing it. I came across a whole bunch of people who credited one known as GTCoder as being the super-coder who wrote a simple .BAT for converting a bunch of the .bin files into .jpg files. It came bundled in a .zip along with a couple other files, I’m sure they’re useful too, but I only needed the bin2jpgall.bat program which converts any .bin file in its folder to a JPEG.

If you need it, the download can be found here, and you want to make sure you get the “Windows binaries: bin2jpg tools” rather than the source code (unless you’re hip to that stuff).

Of course, it wasn’t that easy (it never is). No, not for me…

First, in looking for the GTCoder program I found several broken links before stumbling upon the one that worked (found it on YouTube, of all places).

Then I loaded the images onto the SD card and went to put them onto my laptop (where I write from and do all of my Internet stuff). That would have been the most convenient and direct way to do it, especially since the laptop has a built-in SD card reader…

Guess what? The SD card reader doesn’t work anymore (anyone know how to fix that? It recognizes when I stick a card in, but doesn’t recognize that the card is formatted). So, I had to use the family PC to transfer the .bin files from the SD card to my thumb drive (good old trusty thumb drive…) and then take it to the laptop. From there, everything worked fine.

Here are a few of the photos:

If you’ve played the game you might be asking why the pictures look just a little funny. The Wii does a little anti-aliasing but stores the images in their raw, pixelated form. I could have taken these into Photoshop and made them look a little more like they did on the screen, but decided not to waste my time – they look just fine as they are.

Summary

In summary (for the losers who didn’t want to read all of the stuff I wrote:

*** I found a really cute girl who calls herself “a girl from mars” who dresses up like Samus Aran and looks a lot like the real fake character.

*** I found a way to convert the .bin files from your SD card (the way the images from SSBB are stored) to JPEGs using GTCoder’s tools.

*** Finally, I was really amused while reading in the Samus is a Hottie post by “chris” to learn that performing well in the prior Metroid games has always led to images of Samus outside of her power suit (like the images you see above, only less cool). Here’s an example (see his post for more):

With power suit (notice the time):

Without power suit (see the time again):

Notice that “without the power suit” means “without much on at all.”

Aahh, I love video games… 😀

Overly Ambitious or Genius?

Ever since I was a young child I have had ideas.  Some of my ideas are novel, others impractical, while most of them are hardly noteworthy.  The problem is, not much has ever been produced from my ideas, other than the ideas themselves.  In the end, all I am left with are more ideas.

Take, for instance, an idea I had as a Freshman in High School in 1997, the same year the Nintendo 64 gaming system was released.  The idea began brewing long before then, but I know for sure that I began imagining the particulars during that first year of High School.

My idea really took off that year because we got our first glimpses of what some of our favorite games could be like in a fully three dimensional world.  Playing Mario 64 I was impressed with the level of freedom the extra dimension offered, but I still felt limited.  So I began imagining my own version of the perfect game.

It began with my version of the perfect Mario 64 game.  In stead of levels limited at the edges by invisible walls or impossibly steep hills, why not connect all of the levels?  There could be extra terrain blending the different environments that each level contains, and the whole thing could be one massive world.

On that note, my logic continued, why not make the whole thing into a giant planet?  It could be the Mario 64 world.  A whole planet filled with Mario levels.

Then we got a new game, Mario Kart 64.  This, being another Mario game, instantly began crowding its way into my already busy imaginary Mario world.  In the Mario Kart game, one track takes place in the same setting as the beginning of Super Mario 64 – outside the Princess’s Castle.  I thought it would be cool if you could get out of your race kart and enter the castle.  Of course, in my imaginary 3D Mario world, this would be possible.

The next game I remember getting and loving completely changed my imaginary game forever, and that was Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire.  This game allowed me a visual companion that took my 3D game into new galaxies.  Of course, it didn’t happen so fast.  At first, I saw the opportunity to have other planets and space ships that could fly around in space, allowing you to land on other planets.  Then, another game (this one for the PC) got me thinking even more.

I just spent the last half hour researching and trying to find the name of this game I used to love playing, but found nothing.  I have no idea where I got it, but it was a shareware game where you controlled a small ship and tried to conquer a galaxy.  There were two or three star systems, each with planets in orbit.  It was a simple, 2D game but I loved playing.  You used the up arrow key to fire a single thruster, left and right to rotate and orient the craft (like Asteroids) and the down arrow key to fire your weapon.  The physics reminded you that there is no friction in space, and gravity can pull you off your course.  The planets weren’t all that much bigger than the orbiting landing platform you began on.  You moved out from your planet and found unclaimed planets to make your own.  All of your planets worked on upgrades for your ship such as new weapons, shields, etc.  There was a complicated system for colonizing and developing your planets, but it seemed to take care of itself in the background as long as you kept flying around claiming more planets.

The trouble was with your opponent, who was constantly trying to attack and conquer your planets.  Anyhow, there was a little more to it that that, but I think you get the point.  I decided my game had to have aspects like that.  You could either play around on the surface, or you could go from planet to planet and try to gain control over as many of them as you could.  Then I got to thinking about other jobs, tasks, and so forth that could keep a person busy in a universe like this.  People could play the game to race, to run around on missions like in Golden Eye 007 or Perfect Dark, try to save people like the Star Wars game, fly people from planet to planet, compete for money, use the money to buy ships, cars, and other things…  The list kept growing.

Eventually, I realized this sort of thing would be more fun with other real people if they could be connected over the Internet.  In a recent letter to a loved one, I wrote the following (this person is still using a dial-up connection to the Internet):

Too bad you’re on dial up still.  I was just remembering dial up this week when I was recalling my first experiences with the Internet.  My dad’s place of work had supplied him with a  notebook computer and he had some responsibilities online.  He subscribed to AOL for Internet service at home, and I remember hearing about websites and pages from friends, on television and at school, and wanting to check them out online.  So, I would occasionally ask my dad if we could go on the Internet to look at one thing or another.

Every time we went online it was an adventure.  Not from the discoveries, learning or witnessing of new technology as one would hope.  The experience was an adventure because our connection would get refused a couple of times, then we’d get on with a painfully slow connection speed, and lose the connection five minutes later, only to repeat the whole process again and again.  I remember my “last straw” was when we decided to try filing our taxes online for the first time.  It took many, MANY hours.  Again, not because it was confusing or difficult, but because our connection was unreliable and slow.

A few of these “adventures” and I was convinced that the Internet was a useless, frustrating fad that would pass before I graduated high school.  That was one of my last wrong predictions.  As soon as I heard about “T-One Lines,” “Cable Modems” and “DSL,” I realized that the Internet didn’t have to be a slow, unreliable pain in the rump and a whole flood of possibilities became apparent.

Among that “flood of possibilities” was the idea that the Internet could connect gamers so they could interact in the same virtual world or universe.  Little did I know, but online games were already in existence, and at around the same time as I was developing my ideas for an online multiplayer game, MMOG‘s were also developing into the 3D worlds they are today.  Now, games very similar to the final version of my idea exist (and they are making their creators a lot of money), but they lack the personality and flavor of my imaginary universe.

Spore and Second Life are two examples of ideas like mine that were capitalized on rather than sat on.  In Spore you get something more complicated than what I imagined but more centralized and less ambigous.  However you get the same level of scale and interactivity.  In Second Life you get the social networking, interactivity, creativity, ambiguity and freedom, but you still don’t have the video game style play.  I just think the themed worlds would be fun (imagine a Link and Zelda world).  I also think playing as your favorite video game character should be an option, as well as the traditional creation of an avatar.

In the end, though, my idea is still an idea.  I’m writing about this because I am once again faced with an idea that keeps escalating.  If I don’t squelch the proliferation of ideas soon, my idea will once again become too impractical to create.

Once again, my idea is for a game.  It is a simple game this time though, one for children or adults.  At first, while designing the code on paper, I realized that a modular approach would be easier to work with and make the whole project more flexible.  Then I decided I would like the program to help create the code for the game, making the game easier to edit and change.  I thought it would be good to make the game files separate from the code so it wouldn’t be hardwired into the actual program.  Then I decided to integrate the editing function into the final product so users could create their own games like mine, telling their own story.  Then it just got more complicated and more intricate until I realized I was going to have to back some of the features out if I’m ever really going to program this thing.

Only once did this tendency of mine to escalate ever pay off.  I was in High School, designing a program to help decode some encrypted messages for a contest I was working on in the evenings (instead of doing homework at home).  It worked out because I started getting the extra ideas while I was actually executing the project.  I started with a simple program that helped count characters and plot a graph to help me decode substitution ciphers by character analysis.  Then I got involved in a harder, multi-alphabet substitution cipher that required yet another function in the program to facilitate its decryption.  Eventually I got it to work, and it did its job beautifully.  I was very proud of this program, and to this day I regret the harddrive crash that wiped away every last line of its code.

The dilemma I am faced with is one of practicality.  Is it better to cut off an idea before it gets out of control to keep it feasible, or is it better to dream big, aim high and resign myself to a life full of ideas that I will never bring to life?  I like dreaming big, I love my ideas, but they are too big to execute.  This world we live in moves so quick that if I don’t do something about an idea fast enough, someone else will think of it and do it before me.  I have had numerous ideas that became big a few years after I dreamed them up.

Am I an overambitious, lazy and unrealistic dreamer or am I an under-ambitious genius who lacks the necessary gumption to do something about his ideas?  What do you think?


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