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The Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris on January 7 brings into focus a common theme pervading our culture…the “right” to not be offended. The jihadists who gunned down a dozen people for publishing offensive cartoons may have used the most extreme measure to intimidate, but the impetus—“thou shalt not offend me”—infects almost every line of discourse in society today.

When we begin to talk about free speech, people often retreat to a defensive argument that it’s not a violation of free speech unless the government inhibits speech[1]. But, free speech is more than just freedom from government interference. If people do not feel free to speak their mind due to the threat of retaliation, then speech cannot possibly be said to be “free” regardless of whether or not a law has been passed.

It must be pointed out that being “offended” is an emotion, and we are (or should be) in control of our emotions. The hurtful impact of words comes from within YOU, not from the external source of those words. When your mother told you, “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you,” she wasn’t lying to you. She was describing how an adult SHOULD handle hateful speech in a mature and reasonable nature.

Have words ever made me angry? Yes. Have I sometimes lashed back in anger? Yes. Getting angry was not wrong; letting my anger affect my response was wrong. It is still wrong.

Should people generally try to be civil and not “give offense” to others? Absolutely. The world would be a better place if we all treated each other with more respect. HOWEVER, we can go a long way toward making the world a better place if we refuse to allow other people’s words to cause us to lash out—especially to the point of hunting down and killing those who offended us.

Is it permissible to condemn hateful speech? Of course! The same freedom of speech exercised by someone to utter hateful speech gives us the right to tell those people they are being hateful. Or, to put it another way, the freedom that someone has to call you a bootlicker is the freedom you have to call them a whingy coward[2].

This applies to discussions of religion, video games, political causes, the environment, race relations…everything. We must be free to speak our mind about anything, or we are free to speak our mind about nothing.

[1] Of course, there are more and more people calling for government inhibition of free speech through hate speech laws, hate crime laws, etc. My position on that argument should be made abundantly clear through this post.

[2] I’m trying to keep this post PG. The insults hurled around on Twitter and other places are much, much worse.

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10. Everything is designed for touchscreens. Hey! I still like to use a keyboard and mouse once-in-a-while!

9. Internet memes[1]. Especially how they are obsolete so quickly. I’m just now starting to get the hang of the “One does not simply…” meme and my son looks at me cross-eyed when I use it.

8. Switching “alternate” functions on the function keys. I use F2, F3, F4, etc. all the time, but now on many laptops they change the brightness or turn off my wireless instead of their correct functions. Drives me nuts.

7. Cloud services. Let’s see, I’ve got Dropbox, and Google Drive, and OneDrive… All our data lives online now and people wonder why we don’t have any privacy. Well, it’s because…

6. Hacking. Seriously, if the average person understood how often Web sites and online databases get hacked, the Internet would shut down from so many people disconnecting.

5. Pace of change. I got a relatively new model phone less than a year ago and it’s already antique. :sigh: Now I have to slog through using such an obviously cheap piece of junk for another year before I can upgrade.

4. One-button interfaces. Thanks, Apple, for your “click-wheel[2].” Now “easy-to-use” interfaces are infecting everything from my digital thermometer, to my electric toothbrush, and even my car.

3. Click-bait Web sites. And the celebrities who share them.

2. Anonymity on the Internet is making “social” media very anti-social. Some of the stuff that pops up on Twitter would never be said to someone else’s face because you’d get punched.

1. Our reliance on the Internet. If the WiFi goes out in the house, it’s a national emergency. Thank goodness we get good cell tower coverage…

[1] OK, some of these are funny.

[2] Let’s be honest, the click-wheel wasn’t that great a control scheme anyway.

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10. Replayability. Really, if the game is short, it’s probably not interesting enough to play again. If it’s long enough to be interesting, it’s too long to keep playing it over and over. Make the game so I can do everything the first time. And, really, do game devs want us to play one game over and over? Don’t they want to sell us new games?

9. Epic plots. “There’s a giant hole in the sky spitting out demons! Can you please find my lost cow?[1]” The best games have more personal stories.

8. YouTube walkthroughs. Edit. We do not need to watch you “walk through” cutscenes and endless meandering about looking for stuff. EDIT!

7. Delays. Companies have been making video games for 40+ years. You would think by now they would have figured out how to make reasonable estimates of how long it takes. On the other hand, delays are better than…

6. Bug-ridden messes. I can live with a Day 1 Patch. But it had better work after that Day 1 Patch…

5. 1080p. Apparently, if we actually want to read text in a game, we have to own 60”+ televisions. Speaking of which…

4. Text. If I want to read a book, I’ll read a book. Please don’t throw tens-of-thousands of words of text at me in the game, and expect me to read it to understand everything.

3. Nintendo 2DS. I know, I should have sprung the extra $60 for a 3DS, but, seriously, Nintendo? This hardware is cheap. You can do better than this. You had best do better than this or your quarterly losses are going to continue mounting.

2. #Gamergate[2] However, GG is doing one good thing in trying to fight…

1. Censorship. If I don’t like the content of the game, I won’t buy the game. I may even tell other people my negative opinion of the game. But don’t try to block the game being made or sold; that way lies madness.

[1]Actual side quest in Dragon Age: Inquisition

[2]No, I’m not going to even try. GG is the consumer-side of gaming eating itself.

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In the “bad old days” of the early Web, many people (myself included) preached constantly that you couldn’t design Web pages to any specific monitor resolution. The eggheads in charge of W3C came up with CSS to try to make Web design as display-agnostic as possible.

Of course, “we” lost. Designers are going to design to a specific format no matter what you tell them. They took CSS and used it to make their pages even MORE resolution-dependent. If you ever hit a Web page that doesn’t get the CSS quite right for your browser choice, you know what that means. Elements all layered on top of each other. Fonts too small to read or too big to fit in their “boxes” so you lose half the text.

Well, now the problem is creeping into video game design.

When I bought a PS3 several years ago, I bought my first “big screen” TV along with it—42”, 1080p, LCD. PS3 games look beautiful on it. So do Blu Ray movies. Heck, so do regular DVD movies. What has never looked good on it is a computer screen. When I have hooked my computer (via HDMI) to the TV and set the resolution to 1080p, the screen is unreadable from a normal (~10 feet) distance, unless you have very good eyesight (I don’t).

But, this wasn’t a problem with video games because video games in the 360/PS3 era were not “designed to 1080p.” High definition TVs were still rare enough and the gaming hardware still underpowered enough that games were generally designed to 720p—even if they eventually sent 1080p output to the TV, the original design was based on 720p.

Now, with the PS4 I see game designers have upped their “base” resolution to, at least, 1080p. Here’s the problem—what looks good to designers on their high-resolution, high-pixel-density monitors a couple of feet away from their face looks horrible on my HD, low-pixel-density[1] television that’s ten feet away from my chair. Put simply, the text is too small; I can’t read it. And I’m not alone. On top of that, small elements in the game are easily overlooked[2]. And if you don’t even have HD TV? Forget about it.

Assassin’s Creed IV. Wolfenstein: The New Order. Dragon Age: Inquisition. If I actually want to read any of the text in those games, I have to go stand a few feet away from the TV or yank my chair half-way across the room. What’s really maddening about this is it’s easily fixable. All that’s needed is a font-size adjustment either built into the game or built into the console’s OS.

Or, you know, game designers could start allowing for us old, impaired-vision folks who don’t have Retina Displays right in front of our noses.

[1] Seriously, pixel density (pixels-per-inch or PPI) matters. Here’s a Web site that measures PPI for you. My 5.2” 1080p smartphone has a PPI of 423—nearly twice human visual acuity. At 42”, 1080p is only 52 PPI. It makes a huge difference, especially with text.

[2] Don’t get me started on the tiny loot bags dropped by enemies in Dragon Age: Inquisition.

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A is for Alpha Protocol, better Bond than Bond
B is for Bethesda & BioWare, for games that go on and on
C is for Corvo, defender of the queen
D is for Dragons, and the Dungeons where they preen
E is for Experience Points, which every gamer needs
F is for Fallout, and super mutants to bleed
G is for GameFAQs, the world’s smartest site
H is for Hearts, collecting them is a gamer rite
I is for inFamous, yes, even Second Son
J is for Jet Set Radio, hey, graffiti is fun
K is for Knights of the Old Republic, force powers galore
L is for LEGO, Heroes & Hobbits & Jedi and more
M is for Mass Effect, an RPG in space
N is for Need for Speed, world’s greatest race
O is for Origins, Dragon Age’s first
P is for Plants vs Zombies, with plenty of sunburst
Q is for Quick-Time Events…OK, that one’s a trick
R is for Ratchet, and Clank his robot sidekick
S is for Sony, for PlayStations so fine
T is for Tri-Force, aged like great wine
U is for Uncharted, the tales of Nathan Drake
V is for Varrick, the dwarf who’s something of a rake
W is for Wolf Among Us, a fable quite gritty
X is for X-Men Legends, with mutants quite witty
Y is for Yoshi, Mario’s great treasure
Z is for Zero Punctuation, a guilty pleasure

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Ask most fans of “Western-style” RPG video games who the top developers are and they will probably give you, in some order: Bethesda, BioWare, and Blizzard. Throw out Blizzard because they make primarily action-RPGs, and you have Bethesda and BioWare constantly releasing a stream of high-quality, well-reviewed hits. However, the ‘B’ at the beginning of the names and the genre of video games they share are the only things these two companies have in common. Their games are as different as night and day.

If BioWare games are of the “Choose your own adventure” style, then Bethesda games are closer to MadLibs. BioWare’s games are heavy on narrative. You play each “chapter” in the story and, at the end of the chapter, you can pick where to go next and your choices have some effect on the story, but you still get to the end no matter what. Along the way you can pick up side quests to help fill in the spaces of your adventure, but the focus is always on playing out the main story.

Bethesda games throw narrative out the window. Each Bethesda game consists of multiple short stories that are so separate they aren’t even on a first-name basis with each other. Beyond those are even shorter stories that you won’t discover unless you just go poking your nose in where it doesn’t belong, which is sort of the point of a Bethesda game. Bethesda games are open-world games because that’s all they really are. I know that sounds obvious, but you can’t produce linear “chapters” like BioWare does unless you have, you know, actual chapters. In a story.

Now, there are good and bad points for each type of game. I happen to love both. But, based on sales figures, gamers love Bethesda’s style more than BioWare’s. So, somebody at BioWare (or at BW’s parent company, Electronic Arts) looked at the sales figures and decided what BioWare needs to sell more games is to make an open world!

:sigh: And so we get Dragon Age: Inquisition. A game that’s BioWare through-and-through—after all, they only know how to make narrative-heavy games—but has such huge “levels[1]” with so much filler, the narrative gets snowed under rather quickly. Peel back the layers and there’s BioWare imprinted everywhere on this game.

Meaningless step-n-fetch quests? Got those. Mini-games? Yep, at least two (there may be more I haven’t discovered yet). Crafting that does you absolutely no good because you loot better stuff from your enemies? Uh huh. Items that don’t drop from enemies until you actually get the quest to collect them? Please, don’t mention it again lest my head explode.

We fans put up with this junk because of the good stuff BioWare throws into their games. Lots of cutscenes with fantastic dialogue. Meaningful and deep relationships. Lots of character (and lots of characters—double meaning intended). Those are all in DAI as well, but it pales with all the not-so-good junk BioWare shovels in to make this an “open-world” game.

What sets Bethesda games apart—and, apparently, attracts more players—is not the open world, it’s the fact there IS NO narrative. The only “motivation” for poking around is poking around. You can’t just take the open world concept (which BioWare didn’t even really do properly), and shoehorn epic narrative into it. You end up with lots of empty space when you do that, so BioWare filled the empty space with junk.

Lots and lots of junk. I’m only a dozen hours into the game and my quest log looks like the punch list for the healthcare.gov Web site designer.

It’s a slog, but I’ll keep slogging away. The narrative requires it.

[1] Don’t be fooled. DAI is NOT an “open world” game. It’s a game with individual levels. It’s just each level is huge. Sort of like the planet exploration from the first Mass Effect game. But with more mind-numbing junk thrown around the open space.