Category Archives: software

Installers Don’t be Scary

Was writing another post when this giant orb with green arcing electricity suddenly appeared in the centre of my screen.  It was some kind of green electronic baleful eye…after a little while it disappeared and I was left thinking – has it happened? Machine sentience?  Big brother is watching?  I’d better finish my post?

Turns out it was the installer for some Microsoft Visual Redistributable as a couple seconds later the usual dialog for the EULA appeared – I was installing Game of Thrones in the background and had totally forgotten – but probably a good note – help your users remember who you are and put your name on your artsy logo.  Maybe don’t make it a splash screen that’s not in a window that can be hidden or moved, since they could have been working on something else.

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Android-y? -er?

Slowly but surely I’m now in the land of Android smartphones – mine’s running Gingerbread on a first-generation Samsung Galaxy S.  So far I’m pretty happy with it,  although it tends to freeze up once every day or two of solid use. Still,  it’s very nice to have a phone with enough power under the hood to browse the web,  and which has some decent maps. GPS is a bit spotty but usually works eventually.  What I really do miss though is the hardware keyboard – something the size of a Samsung smartphone with a slideout keyboard would probably be a bit of a monster, but although Swype is sometimes amazing, it is also sometimes dumb as a doornail – for example, when typing things that are not english words like passwords. Although,  the QWERTY weird positioning of keys probably makes swype work better than it should, and it is miles beyond hunt and peck on a soft keyboard.  And the biggest failure in all touchphones?  Selecting text.  Select, cut and paste is a task where combining inaccuracy in pointing with limited visibility means lots of mistakes in cutting the selection,  lots of slow painful scrolling and ending up pasting in the wrong spot. And then good luck undoing it…

Currently Watching

Transitioning through a romantic (comedy) movie phase – hopefully this is pre-temporal compensation for crazy testosterone fueled Iron Man 2.  Still haven’t figured out how to find people to watch Avatar – I should do that before it’s off all the 3D theaters.  Currently plowing through “How I Met Your Mother” – not really so much about meeting the mother, it would seem,  but it’s definitely a solid rom-com-slash-sit-com.  Doing a lot of wrestling with the digital software acquisition – actually,  starting to seriously contemplate “monthly rental systems”.   Paying a fixed amount per month for “more candy than I can eat” is starting to sound very interesting.

Still working through my feelings about “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond,  and of course the mixed bag of movies I plowed through…We’ll see what happens about “regular blog updates” – probably about on  par with the “regular piano practice for my sister’s wedding”.  And then there’s going to be random travelling to Toronto…

Digital Distribution – Bargains Galore

Although not yet a convert to iTunes,  I have gone to digital distribution for most of my PC applications (and particularly gaming) needs.  This transition was a bit surprising,  given my predilection to collecting physical media and considering the electronic bits themselves ephemeral.  However,  as time goes on, substantial chunks of my life have “gone digital” – I now consider for example my hard copy documents to be the ephemeral transition versions,  and the digital/online version to be the definitive one.  The industry is meeting me halfway – a large proportion of software is now available digitally (good) and what with continually patching the physical media version is now almost certainly out-of-date before it is even opened.

The last straw that broke the camel’s back, however, is the fact that online shopping is ridiculously convenient.  There’s a bit of time saved, making your way to the store and back.  But the biggest boon is that when you’re shopping on the Internet,  you have (by definition) the Internet at your disposal.  It’s a simple browser window away to comparison shop or google for reviews and impressions.

These days,  I’ve got accounts on three of the major digital distribution sites – Steam, Direct2Drive and Impulse.  Which brings me to what is probably the key factor in my conversion to digital distribution – the deals in incredible.  In my mind,  I think to myself “I’d only by digital distribution if it was a lot cheaper”.  Well,  the deals on these sites are often far better than the bargain bins of most stores or the second-hand resale software. I used to consider (not too many months ago) 50% off as a good discount, nicely steep discount – nowadays,  50% off is probably the top end of what I consider the a “sale”.  A good discount now has to bring the price below $10,  and you get some big name titles sometimes dipping into the $5 and down bin.  There’s usually something new,  on sale (temporarily or permanently marked down) every couple of days,  with Steam being pretty regular about having a mid-week sale and a weekend sale.

And brand-new software isn’t immune – I’ve now promised myself not to buy the “hot new thing”  at full price.  Steam will usually have it for pre-order at 10% off,  and if you wait a month or two,  you’ll often find easily find flash deals of 25%-33% off.  Holidays?  Special Occasions?  Usually accompanied by a whole stack of sales.

As a safety measure,  I’ve intentionally avoided any of the “one-click”  automation with the payment – I need the extra passwords to prevent impulse purchases.  No thank you, please do NOT authenticate my payment credentials (I tend to use Paypal) automatically – I need the time while reviewing my payment options (I pay by credit card to get the extra rebate from the CC company) to slow me down me ol’ trigger finger.

Digital Distribution a.k.a. Bargain hunting has never been so easy – or convenient.

Keeping on the Pulse of PC gaming

There’s a couple of usual hangouts I seem to gravitate towards to get up-to-date on what’s new and what’s fun to play.  There’s Rock, Paper, Shotgun who are some pretty funny guys which write on a whole slew of topics,  and actually think (out loud) on what makes a game tick,  why it’s fun – great for finding out what I might enjoy, and exploring what makes these games fun.  The quarter to three game forums have lots of pretty relaxed folk who write about games (and game related things) that they enjoy – it’s a bit no holds barred light moderation,  but everyone behaves mostly and you see a whole spectrum of interests.  There’s a particularly good Bargain Thread (currently up to 320 pages!) – the tail end of that tracks all sorts of deals (PC and console-related).  We’re talking popular games,  often over 50% off.  My new bar is the $5-$10 bracket – it’s like getting a movie rental online.

Oh,  and I shouldn’t forget the funny folks at Penny Arcade – their comics are hilarious,  and they have some interesting insight into gaming and the industry,  although they sometimes wander off into the realm of console gaming (which I’m currently avoiding due to already wasting too much time PC gaming…)

Of course,  the old standby Bluesnews is the standard stop to hear about new releases,  but it’s straight news – nowadays,  I like the commentary I get at those two other sites almost as much as actually playing games sometimes.

Fallout 3 vs Bioshock

Bioshock was a pretty well-realised romp,  with an interesting premise.  Feels especially applicable since I know a little about this genetics thing myself – it’s interesting to see how the mass market views it (apparently,  like all science,  it is a gateway to unspeakable horrors and the realm of things that Man Was Not Meant To Know).   Very good,  although sometimes I had a feeling that things were chosen for shock value (let’s have small girls!…with giant needles!…And they’ll be indoctrinated by a crazy scientist!…and they’ll speak in cute voices while repeatedly stabbing things!)  A good premise,  and surprising twists in the story!  A pretty good followup to the System Shock series,  although I miss SHODAN.  B+

Fallout 3 has beautiful technology – there’s a cool slow motion gunplay system,  and you can wear all sorts of clothing.  A nice variety of weapons.  A huge,  well-realised world.  But unfortunately,  the story is pure blah.  I was waiting for … something … but it didn’t really happen.  You do things for people,  but you don’t connect with anyone really.  In the end,  I plowed through for the ending – a pretty impressive-looking final fight sequence,  although you end up watching rather than doing anything.  It’s really a C+ game with B+ technology under the hood.

And what is with American videogames and their obsession with the ugly?!  Maybe it’s the opposite end of the uncanny valley – if making things too life-like/realistic and pretty makes people creeped out,  I guess you can exploit that and really freak them out by making lifelike creepy things…Somehow,  I’d much rather be in a world that is not populated by people with a level of fashion sense comparable to my own.   And the single palette of colours – it’s all brown,  all the time in Fallout 3 (really dislike this,  probably burnt out on that scheme in my old Quake days).  Then again,  I like the over-the top colourful designs in Gundam,  which is on the “aesthetics over function” side of things.

Sam & Max and other random games

Taking a trip to the days of yore…actually, Sam & Max (of Sam & Max, Freelance Police fame) are back,  in 3D!   I should probably pick up season one from London Drugs or somesuch when it hits bargain bin status,  but for now:

http://www.telltalegames.com/samandmax/lincolnmustdie

Abe Lincoln must die (Episode 4) is available for free download.  I haven’t actually played it,  but the demo for Episode  was pretty funny.

Also fooling around with Prince of Persia: Sands of Time,  and there’s the boardgame reviews I’ve been posting on BoardGameGeek.  I can’t seem to muster enough enthusiasm to finish off any RPGs lately (Final Fantasy V joins IX,  and Tactics Advance in the half-finished category).  I might make it further in PoP,  since it seems to be a pretty lightweight (ie easy to control but you easily pull off cool moves à la God of War.  The Ubisoft folks seem pretty reliable – I’ve been a fan of the Splinter Cell games.   More and more like you’re in control of an action movie – I’m still thinking up how to put together my ultimate strategy RPG game in that vein.

The other neat “technology demo” game I played around with lately is Toribash.  A fighting game in a completely different style – here everything is turn-based,  each turn simulating a couple seconds.   You choose which joints to extend or contract,  relax or hold rigid,  and by doing the right things you can create your own moves!  Of course,  it turns out a lot of the easy motions we take for granted are really hard to duplicate when thinking about it – exactly which muscles are used how to walk forward?  And the strength level is pretty insane – you can easily back flip and break off your head.I hear multiplayer is pretty extreme – the single player mode only has a non-moving dummy.

I think it would be neat to go the completely other way – lots of dumb AI controlled bots you could take apart. They wouldn’t have to do more than standard grunt AI from a final fight clone – you’d be the one doing all the nifty DIY kung fu.

Creepy Dream…Cautionary Tale?

Urgh…had a nasty nightmare last night where I forgot to attend the Medical Genetics class I’ve been taking this term and accidentally double booked with a Math course. Of course, it turns out that one of them was at SFU, making it really impossible to be at both places at once. And it was past the deadline for withdrawing.

On the upside, I felt really good my performance in the Math course. On the other hand, I felt like I was going to fail the Medgen course. Hmmm….

Ultimate Steal?

No, this is not the beginning of the master plan for a grand heist.  Instead,  this is a pretty impressive deal on Office 2007 for canadian students.  It’s the “ultimate” bundle – Word, Excel, Outlook, Onenote, Access…you name it, it’s probably in there,  and the whole shebang is $64.    There are equivalent offers for students in the states, in UK and a couple other countries – although, sadly, the US students pay less for theirs.  Sad result of the slow moving MSRP compared to the currency market.

Anyways,  not much to say.  The ribbon is both very stylish – there’s definitely a novelty whiz-bang impression currently going, counterbalanced by the irritation at not being able to have everything in their old places.  Actually, I mostly miss the ribbon in the apps that don’t have it – particularly OneNote.   As a side effect, it has also convinced me to turn on ClearType for the rest of the OS.  Once you get used to it,  it really does make all the fonts look a good chunk sharper,  although I prefer them chunkier.

Note that if you’re not a student and they find out, you’ll have to pay full price for the software (which is something ridiculous like $800). I haven’t actually bitten yet,  waiting to see if there’s going to be a big rebound somewhere in there,  but I think the laziness of doing the downgrade will probably have me keep it.

I do like the blueness of Word…

ASCII D20 RPG

I’ve been eying the newfangled Neverwinter Nights 2 – I have a copy of NWN1 floating around, but the new version promises to bring state-of-the-art hardware to its knees. Also the reason why I’m drooling over Jade Empire but reluctant to actually getting a copy – I have a feeling my minimal graphics card would have a heart attack.

Still, what with all the “Open Gaming” movement sweeping the RPG sector alongside the surge of d20 content, I’m surprised there hasn’t been more in the way of “authentic” implementations of the pen-and-paper RPG rules. After all, isn’t this the ideal way to track all the slightly different modifiers to skill rolls and such? “You get +2 for your size, +3 from the magic of your sword, +1 because it’s silver, -2 because you can’t see him, -5 because of some funny smell but +3 because your friend is singing…” …I’m sure most people end up ignoring most of these. Anyways, Incursion takes successfully takes the roguelike genre and implements it with all the fixings of the d20 fantasy rules. The author has taken creative license to add some extras that he prefers (a magic point system, for example), but the end result reminds me more than a little of NWN. Except for the no saving, permanent death bit. An impressive feat…I’d be even more impressed if the source code ends up being released, but that’s on the “I’ll believe it when I see it”. I realised that all the Spycraft 2.0 rules are OGL as well…

Only downside – Incursion doesn’t have a good intermediate font size for playing in windows on screens at 1024×768…800×600 is kinda cramped when it’s all this itty bitty text font.