Sunday, August 30, 2009

ebook insanity

So, the other day I noticed that I hadn't read any fiction in quite a while. I'd fallen into a rut of tech manuals and online howtos as my only reading, and my prime source of entertainment coming from hulu/netflix or video games. I decided it was high time on catching up on some good sci-fi, and with the memory of recently lugging around boxes of novels after the move a few months fresh in my mind I decided to check out the ebook route (since O'Reilly's Safari has been absolutely kick ass for me).

I was shocked (shocked!) to find out that the publishers wanted about $20 for an ebook. That puts it on the same price level as a hardback book (which I rarely buy). Paperback novels are in the $10-12 range, and the mass paperbacks (what shows up in the airport or along that back wall at Barnes and Nobles) are about $7. That's assuming you buy the book new... which means the publisher gets a cut of that. If you buy it used from Half Price Books or from Amazon, the range is about $2-5, and the publisher makes zero dollars.

You would expect the ebook to appeal to the lowest common denominator... that the publishers would be using it as a way to snipe at those $2-5 transactions they aren't getting a cut of. But you'd be wrong. They seem to think that ebooks are competing with hardcovers. It's like they don't understand that people who already buy hardcovers do so because they like the big print, extra art, and the fact that you have a good, solid book in your hands, and that these people wouldn't be likely to purchase only the ebook, anyway.

If the story is the key piece of intellectual property that they're selling, I find it highly amusing that I can go download and watch The Hunt for Red October in 2 hours from Amazon for $6, but if I want the pdf version to spend a week reading that'll cost $18. And then the publishers have the nerve to bemoan the fact that no one reads anymore....

Sunday, August 23, 2009

call of duty 4: modern warfare

Snagged CoD4 from Steam and spent some time playing it. It's yet another installment of the good old Call of Duty series.. nothing much has changed except for the setting.

As usual, the game itself is more about immersing you in a cinematic experience than anything else. A lot of the one-liners are pulled from iconic movies. Bad guys will keep swarming out of spawn points periodically until you finally figure out you're supposed to move up and take the house they're coming from in order to stop the script trigger. You're squadmates' main job seems to be running directly into your line of fire and blocking doorways so you can't run back through a door to find cover from a grenade. And, if you happen to run out of ammo, just pick up one of the 7,000 guns laying around on the ground from previously conquered enemies to keep bringing the pain.

The game has added in some new mechanics, such as stealth movement in the SAS episodes and guided missiles in the form of firing a Stinger and a Javelin. And I've got to admit that the opening level is really well done (I'm on a boat!) from an immersion standpoint. Haven't tried the multiplayer stuff yet, but that's on the todo list.

Overall, not bad entertainment, but I wouldn't say it's groundbreaking in anything other than scriptwriting and the fact that it's not yet-another-WWII game. :)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

arma 2

So, what, with the WoW boycott and all, I've got some spare time these days during the chunk of my calendar for gaming. A friend of mine who I used to play Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory with mentioned that he was getting into Arma 2.

The basic concept is that it's another Battlefield style game, where you get to play anything you want (infantry, drive tanks, fly choppers, fly jets) except it's supposed to be more like a simulation than a game and offers you quite a bit of freedom in what you can do in the game. Modding has been made super easy and even though the game was released in late June, there's already a plethora of mods out for it.

The other big selling point is that it's one of the few games out there that supports the TrackIR head tracking system, which allows you to move your head in real life to look around in the game. Providing that turning your head while keeping your eyes locked on a point straight in front of you feels natural to you.

I decided to snag the demo off Steam (I swear, Valve should be paying me for how often I mention Steam in a positive light here) and install went fairly smooth. After spending about an hour putzing around with the game, I'm going to have to pass on it.

My big problem with it is that there are controls for everything. There's a button to go prone. A button to stand up. A button to kneel down. A button to zoom your camera in at some point, a button raise the weapon so you can stare down the site, another button to lower the weapon, a button to use the scope, and another button to switch to binoculars. I gave up on the game during the first aid training where you are instructed to go grab a wounded soldier and drag him 25m back to the instructor, but just hitting the button to interact with the soldier isn't enough, and you are prevented from moving until you discover which button must be pressed to hoist your buddy up on your shoulder and take him where he needs to go.

That might not be so bad, except for the fact that every single control option for all the different play modes are listed on a single screen. You have to wade through control options for FPS/infantry movement, driving vehicles, flying aircraft, multiplayer team communications, and managing your AI squad in single player. "Daunting" doesn't even begin to describe it.

The graphics aren't really anything special, but these days everyone's first task with a new game is to turn down the level of detail so they can squeeze out as much performance as possible so that's not really an issue. The "radio" alerts from your squad mates are also stitched together from various samples, which makes the incoming messages from your buddies sound like when you call one of those automated time/weather phone numbers... again, not a deal breaker, but it is a tad annoying.

Actually shooting the weapons is pretty good, though. They have bullet fall-off, so you get a kind of America's Army feel to firing the guns. Unlike AA, you're allowed to carry a Quake-sized armament (pistol, M-16, and rocket launcher... woohoo). If you're one of the folks who wants "realism" in their games, then this is definitely worth giving a look.

Overall, I'd say I might stick with the game if it wasn't for the UI. I'm tired of having to memorize arcane combo sequences to pull off the simplest of actions. ET (and ETpro) did a pretty good job of streamlining different activities into as few controls as possible in order to make it so players spent more time worrying about shoot'n'scoot rather than engaging of weeks of training just to have the muscle memory to avoid whipping out a pair of pliers and waving them menacingly at the bad guys.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

escape is never the safest path

Not really a video, but the song's worth it.

introducing... goblin 2.0

My tablet died a few weeks ago, and rather than spend the $100 on ebay to fix it, I decided it was a good excuse to get a newer, more up to date laptop. After spending 45 minutes in Best Buy and trying to convince them to take my money yet still leaving empty handed, I ended up snagging an Acer Aspire from Altex.

Dual core AMD X2 proc, 3GB memory, ATI video card, and more hdd space than I'll need.... I forget the exact specs, and tbh, I really don't care about anything beyond the dual core and the memory. What blew my mind was that I picked it up for under $600, which is roughly half of what I paid for the Dell Infuriation 4 years ago around this same time. I can't believe how cheap hardware has gotten. But I'm not complaining.

Any rate. I've got a new dev platform that can actually run vmware without too much of a hassle, thus allowing me to parallelize between winders and linux development. The proc is also beefy enough that I don't have to reconsider building stuff on it, be it a sendmail or a MSVS project. Pretty happy with it so far.

The dark cloud looming on the horizon is that from what I've seen of other Acer users, the laptops don't last long and don't stand up well to repeated abuse (which is unfortunate because I'm pretty much the monkey from the Samonsite commercial when it comes to expensive hardware). I'm not sure how long this poor piece of silicon and plastic is going to last, but even if it only makes it for a couple of years it's done as well as the Dell.

Oh, and final bit of advice to anyone else thinking about getting an Acer laptop. The first thing you must do is find the Control Panel setting for the touchpad and disable ALL of the gesture and window scrolling stuff. You will go nuts with the mouse jumping around everywhere due to inadvertent brushing against the touchpad. Spent around 30 minutes trying to figure out why my machine was acting possessed, but once I got it straightened out it's been smoothe sailing.

XNA 3.0

Yeah, yeah, long time no type. Got caught up with that twitter stuff, which makes it unbelievably easy to be cryptic. There's no room for parentheses or excess verbiage inside of the 160 character limit of an SMS message.

But this isn't about twitter, it's about XNA, so let's to it.

Basically have started working on a project "seriously". The alleged goal is to end up producing a game, but in reality I'm using it as a chance to apply what I've learned so far and to see how to emulate some features from other games that I might like. The upside to XNA is that it makes developing and dealing with a 3D world hellah easy from a software architecture standpoint. The downside is... the devil's always in the details.

One challenge I find myself facing is what the best way to handle something like the pulldown console in Quake3. There are a few people who have appeared to have created their own XNA classes to handle this, but they just doesn't feel Right(tm) to me, and I'll probably end up writing my own. As I've said in the past, one of the pitfalls of OO programming is that the whole "code reusability" thing doesn't apply because you find as your code develops and evolves that you didn't really understand your objects in the first place and didn't see what was going to be required.

And all that is a long way to say that, despite the awesome shortcuts XNA provides, at the end of the day you're still going to be writing your own windowing systems for the environment.

Which is what I was trying to escape from by getting into game programming to starty with. \o/