Friday, September 29, 2006

Superficial F.E.A.R. review

I'm about 2/3 through F.E.A.R., so thoughts on the story and plot and general effect will have to wait (midway summary: meh). However, the game looks leaps and bounds better on my new computer than any game ever did on my four year old machine. Naturally the graphical goodies stand out. In particular:

I wasn't fully aware of how amazing the water effects were until I noticed the waves I created as I hopped in a dark pool at one point. The waves turned into ripples that constructively interfered with each other. They dissipated along the ramp out of the water. I guess Far Cry is going to have this on the 360, but it's the best I've seen from a PC. The water also reflects light off its surface, and refracts it beautifully from underneath (though I've only seen it once and it may have been a rendering trick).

You've come a long way, baby.

Particle effects!
These are used in a volume almost like Max Payne, except they provide a tactical as well as aesthetic function. Shoot a guy in a certain spot too much, and the dust it kicks up makes it too foggy to see him. This can be used to your advantage too. Explosions cause filing cabinets to erupt with paper. Blasts that reach the ceiling have tile fragments and dust particles scattering down. Dusty corridors with ventilation fans cast beams of light out of the duct that are cut by the spinning fan blades.

The lighting in general!
It's totally unprecedented in its complexity. Every object casts a real, dynamic shadow. This means enemies coming around corners throw huge shadows on walls, and once again, it works both ways. I've been spotted by my shadow before, and I've watched for a guy to reload based on his shadow. I've even been spotted by my flashlight, as well as by the noise I made switching weapons. The optically distorted concussion blasts from grenades often start lights swinging wildly, throwing equally erratic shadows every which way.

Ok, well one gameplay thing, The A.I.!
It's frighteningly good. Disturbingly good. So good I honestly stopped talking to my roommate mid-sentence because I thought the enemies would hear me if I kept going. I can't exploit any artificialities like "it seems he can't see me even though I can see him, ha ha, take that potshot loser!" I have to play this game as if I'm playing against other people. Baddies have jumped over railings, have ran away and cowered around corners, and have spotted me based on my light and sound. One time a guy knew he was in trouble and shot the wall next to him (possibly accidentally, but he had a shotgun). This kicked up a cloud of dust and I couldn't see him anymore. Sure enough when I walked through it he had backed up and around a corner and sabotaged me as soon as I got in the clear. Another time an enemy saw my proximity grenade around the corner, and instead of avoiding it entirely, he tossed his own grenade around the corner to blow up both grenades.

Cons so far:
Bullet time has been done. It really does feel like Max Payne, but first-person and without the jumping. There's no reason not to use this mode. It looks incredible, it's fun, and it helps you out. No tactical disadvantage here like Max Payne's vulnerability as he rolls across the floor.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

[pun involving "major"]

The front page story of today's Michigan Daily is about the drum major fiasco that took place this summer, where the briefly incumbent Ben Iwrey was replaced by runner-up Iden Baghdadchi. Until now, the public information available on this story consisted of a brief e-mail from Professor Nix saying "Iden Baghdadchi is now the drum major."

Kudos to the Daily for dragging it through the mud. There it is for the world to hear about.

Sure, the Daily has every right to print the article, and I'm obviously not going to disagree with the need for free speech. But this is clearly bad for the program and was run in poor taste. I don't think the public needs to know there was a problem. It's just needless ammo. If an article like this about OSU's drum majors came up, I would take every opportunity to heckle them about it in Columbus this fall. But maybe that's just me.

Nix is all about good public representation of the band. I am positive he is just fuming-mad right now. While some of his reasons seem frivolous (a comment Ben made in 2003? A gesture he made in 2005 along with several dozen other band members, myself included?), it's pretty messed up that the "successful and happy conclusion" that Ben is fighting for would be him tumultuously reinstated as drum major 1/3 of the way through the season with a director and staff that obviously disagree with him. It's too bad he can't see beyond his own interests here.

Trombone section pop superstar Joe "J-Lo" Lohrum offered some reassurance that this might not result in something as debaclous as a midterm re-election:
" sounded like he was asking for reinstatment in the hope that they would settle for a public apology. I don't think he really expects to be put back in as drum major now."

While Ben was apparently unprofessional in his brief role, he seemed to lead the clarinet section with intensity and dedication. But apparently he just thought he could do whatever he wanted, and now it seems he wants to stop at nothing to bring about some justice he proved he doesn't deserve.

But the proof is in the pudding. The bottom-line evaluation of the drum major's performance -- the only thing I, as a lowly citizen no longer in the MMB, can care about -- comes about five minutes before kickoff. Sure, 400 people care how the drum major acts, carries himself, and leads the band during rehearsals. But about 110,000 care how he looks on gameday. Iden has nailed 4 of 4 hatless backbends. Q.E.D.

[edit: other comments about Iden redacted. This is not about him.]

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

public transit

Last week someone leaked a 2gb file of Ubisoft documents, including screenshots, tech demos, and unannounced content. As I skimmed through some of the screenshots today I noticed an oddly familiar sight: the old Ann Arbor Bus Depot on Huron has inexplicably made its way into Far Cry 2 concept art.

Icons of my fair city are being used in art conveying dilapidation and disrepair. Is this an Ann Arbor castaway's nostalgia, a bitter ex-resident's longing, or social commentary on the state of affairs in this town?

Reference photo:

Monday, September 25, 2006

honey, I'm home

I've never had a good answer to the "what do you do at work?" question. Not because I'm presumptious, but because I don't know how to describe it succinctly. "Computer stuff" is too vague, "book and article delivery" is too obvious. So here is a breakdown of my day:

8-9: Perform triage on the incoming e-mail system, which includes answering questions myself or assigning questions to specialists ("borrowers" or "lenders," etc).
9-9:30: I process the documents that other libraries scanned and sent to us. I use a simple program to make sure we know to whom they're going, from whom they came, and convert them to a .pdf to be read by our patrons.
9:30-11: Most Big Ten schools (and several in Chicago) ship and receive ILL books through a private mailing system. I scan them in and put them in bins to be delivered to each school. This is one of my favorite parts of the day, since the task is repetitive and simple and I can listen to my iPod while I work. The Real Time with Bill Maher podcast has come in handy here. Unfortunately I'm only supposed to be the backup for this job, and it will soon be handled by a different person.
11-12: Desk hour. I answer phone calls, check out books, and generate the automatic e-mails telling people to bring back their books because they will be due soon.
12-1: Go home for lunch. I usually have lunch made and eaten in the first 25 minutes, and sit around doing nothing for the rest of the time. I wish I could shorten this break and leave earlier.
1-2: Respond to more e-mails and handle another round of electronic article delivery.
2-3: Finding books in the south building. Again, I use the iPod here, which makes everything better. But this can be frustrating because often I'm sent on a hunt for a journal that doesn't exist, or squinting at Russian microfilm trying to find a word that looks like "February."
3-3:30: Combine my two 15-minute breaks into one long one. I usually go to Wendy's and read the paper, or get a snack with whatever friends are around.
3:30-5: Another round of electronic delivery, then cleanup tasks like checking in overdue microforms.

Throughout the day, I'm one of the tech support people too, so I'll be the one fixing computers or hooking up speakers or adding hard drives or formatting Word documents as time allows. I like how well everything is broken up. It makes it nearly impossible to get bored or frustrated. And no matter how difficult things are, my brain shuts off at 5. Out the door, out of sight, out of mind. It's wonderful sometimes.

salve omnes

Hello, world. I plan to use this blog as a public forum for my thoughts and to keep in touch with family and friends (and vice versa). If I'm lucky, I will pick up on a tremendously important story and become rich beyond my wildest dreams, or develop some schtick that makes me world-famous. Most likely it will just be complaining about video games, Michigan sports, and my inability to cook a decent dinner.

If you post a comment, keep it clean. I hope this blog stays with me for a while and I wouldn't want potential employers to be discouraged. Enjoy!