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Friday, December 28, 2007

I've got to agree with Tycho On Epic, Modding, and PS3

Penny Arcade has responded to Mark Rein's response to their disdain for the current setup of PS3 mods for Unreal Tournament III.

Look, nobody could be a bigger supporter of this idea in theory. In theory, I think it's the only way to go. PC and console convergence is happening. Some might say it's pretty much happened. To be able to create user content for my console from my PC isn't just smart - I'd say it's becoming inevitable.

Just because it's a good idea, though, doesn't mean we should applaud any old implementation of it. Epic's mod framework has given me hours of indulgence. I've written mutators, mods, code tutorials, etc. It is still my favorite mod setup. That doesn't mean they don't drop the ball on the big picture though.

Take the code change from UT2003 to UT2004 ... which drastically altered some classes, especially weapon classes, in the middle of Make Something Unreal. It disrupted the contest and made several online tutorials completely useless. And there was essentially no warning for this. Then for UT2004 Epic decides to overhaul the actual ingame mod framework. In some ways, this was an excellent idea - it was to standardize the interface for organizing and launching mods within the game. It was also to help organize the file structure so that mods were less likely to clutter the normal system folder.

Problem was ... it was insanely total conversion centric. Without starting off with basically your own branch of code you couldn't get anything properly compiled and running. If you wanted to just make a new gametype for the original game, you were sort of left out in no man's land between the "old way", which Epic was making clear was frowned on, and the "new way" which was not only time prohibitive in simply getting setup but also clumsy for players to use. I played with the new way simply for the contest ... but then everything else I just went back to the old method.

So now they bring mods to the PS3. But you have to find some kind of media to download the mod to which you can plug into the console, which pretty much means a memory card - which some models don't have, or a flash drive - which not everyone has. This is after users spent a good year just bitching about how installations were working on the PC and how they wanted a better ingame browser for installing, organizing and removing both mods and mutators.

And I haven't seen the code, but other modders have told me that the Unreal Tournament III codebase sets a new record for native code references. This is code written in the native C++ and not exposed via UnrealScript. For instance, all of the homing code for the rockets.

However for me, the killer in all this is that the Unreal Editor won't currently compile for the PlayStation 3. This is awful. This means Epic must hand select mods and compile them for the PS3. It's the worst possible atmosphere for modmakers, when they have to suck up to the mother company for favors. Now modders are going to worry about what Epic wants, what will make Epic happy and what will get them noticed. It's the same kind of market pressure that smothered mods in Yet Another Realism Mod clones for the longest time. It's the inverse of a healthy mod community.

All of this lumps into a mod framework which is less friendly for modders and less friendly for players. Yes, I'm glad that some people can play mods on their PS3. But until Epic fixes this mess - I don't really want to be a part of it.

Christmas Loot Reviews

Brief rundown of what the Wii got for Xmas:

Geometry Wars
Played it for about it an hour. It's a solid port of the PC game, I can't really speak for the 360 version of course. The "galaxy" mechanic is solid enough to provide the kind of variation required for an actual purchase, but this title isn't going to win your heart or anything. It's an old school arcade shooter, it's fun and it has multiplayer modes (though not online).

Short version: If you have friends over every now and then, this is probably a solid afternoon time waster or something to leave on during a party. The lack of online is a bit of a shame - but not a dealbreaker.

Metroid Prime: Corruption
I've spent most of my time on Metroid. I think I'm like 10% through already. It has a beautiful frustration curve to it ... once you think you're fed up with a location you just start exploring some more and generally find your workaround. Exploration, as is proper with the Metroid franchise, is the key here. Corruption has a different style to it than nearly any other shooter outside of it's own predecessors. There's not a lot of over the top action ... instead the game swims in the environment. If other shooters steal anything, they should steal the scanning mechanic ... the closest I can think of right now is BioShock's photography schtick.

Simply put - it's one of the best shooters ever made. It has the foibles of the Metroid design - exploration and well, re-exploration - which might not be for everyone. But Metroid: Corruption kinda reminds me of when everyone was playing Doom and some people kept raving about Marathon. Except now everyone is playing Marathon's spiritual offspring Halo and some people keep raving about Metroid.

Super Mario Galaxy
The Girl and I whipped this out for a couple hours to give it a whirl, so I can't say I have anything extensive to say about it. I'll just say that it feels like the proper successor to the Super Mario 64 mantle. The planets/gravity mechanics give it enough of a twist that you don't feel like you're playing yesterday's game, the co-op mechanic is solid enough to make it worthwhile to coax someone else to help out and the graphics are just simply wonderful. In two hours, the title felt like one of those must-haves for the system.

Phantasy Star Online
The Gamecube edition offers up better graphics and a new split screen mode ... something I can't get if I just jack my Dreamcast into my PC monitor. Plus the edition The Brother found has the extra quests for the single player mode (and both episodes). So lots of content here. The only stumbling block for us was that the split screen "multimode" is hard to jump right into. You can't play the quests, so there's no safety net for new players. We tried a bit, The Girl's hunter died and was left with no weapons or money.

Still, not a hard thing to workaround - we'll just buff up characters in single mode and then meet back up in multimode. And I'm amazed as to how well this gameplay holds up. PSO set such a solid standard for an action RPG that it still makes me think of the Phantasy Star Universe for the PS2 and cry. Well, maybe not cry, but certainly shake my head. Here's a Gamecube game with tight mechanics, hours and hours of content and a split-screen offline mode, and there was a PS2 game I had in the tray for less than an hour.

PSO still rocks the kazbah. The Girl was saying I should walk the dog tonight so that she could catch up to my level 7. Oh yeah, level 7 in just one night. I still got it...

Overheard On The El

"Well, since tomorrow is Friday."

"Wait? Tomorrow is Friday?"

"Um, yeah. Friday."

"Really? Friday?"


"Oh. Oh my. Oh no. Are you sure?"

*shows PDA presumably with a calendar on the screen*

"Oh. Oh man. Oh, I screwed up. Tomorrow is Friday."


"Oh. I screwed up big. Big time." *pause* "I gotta stop drinking."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Days Of Christmas: Old Dog Vestibular

There are always the things unplanned.

It was about 3:00 in the morning that we got our dog, Goethe, to the ER vet here in Chicago. This was last Friday. I woke to the noise of her falling - which isn't that odd since she shifts around in her bed sometimes - but this was just continous. At first we thought something was wrong with her back hips ... her legs are splayed out and she couldn't stand without leaning on something.

Then The Girl noticed her eyes - flickering back and forth with rapid succession and her eyebrows dancing to keep up. My first thought was a stroke and my heart sank. Just earlier that day I had ran with her in the park. It was hard to think about how this was going to turn out.

The ER vet was across town but it is definately one of those things you're glad you live in the city to have. Expensive, sure, but we could just get in the car and talk to a real vet without trying to wake anyone up or hold on the phone for an emergency line. Once in Bloomington, my cat had a bad reaction to some of her shots and ended up running around the apartment with one leg kicking in fits of spasms. I ended up calling the emergency pager number five times. I never got a call back, even in the morning. I never went back to that vet again.

At the ER, we got what was definitely bad news ... but not as bad as we had feared. Goethe had what is commonly called old dog vestibular disease, or sometimes just old dog vestibular or old dog disease. It's not uncommon. It's idiopathic - which means they usually will never find a cause. Essentially something happens in the brain between the ear nerves and central processing which result in the poor dog's world turning into a combination of a merry go round and one of those evil spinning car on an arm things. And they can't get off.

As bad as this sounds, the silver lining is that it is generally self-recoverable. Treatment is rest, making sure the dog is hydrated, and trying to get them to stand and walk on their own so that the brain attempts to sort everything out. My instinct would have been to put a towel over her head and keep her in a dark room - but that's apparently precisely what you shouldn't do.

The problem here was that we had nothing to do but wait. The self-recovery bit is nothing but probabilities. Some dogs recover fully in 24 hours. Some recover partially in 72 hours. Some recover somewhat in three weeks. Some never really recover. And all you get to do is wait to see if you get your dog back or you'll be setting up the IV at home. We spent Friday afternoon at the vet's congratulating Goethe on standing and leaning. At one point Goethe tried to kiss The Girl on the cheek and ended up toppling to the ground.

Thankfully by Saturday her condition had gotten better and the vet was comfortable with releasing her. She had eaten some wet food from someone's hand - she was still to not able to navigate a bowl just yet. She could walk a little. The Girl was uneasy putting her in a car in this state, so our holiday weekend ended up getting split as I drove down to the homestead to catch my brother while he was still in town, and then looped back up with my dad the next day to pick her up, if she felt the puppy was up to the task.

Fortunately it seemed like time favored the good dog. Her recovery was in degrees, but we took every step we could get. Once down in Decatur, she was treated to a wide variety of holiday food and for a few days we were happy she was just eating anything at all. By the time we left on Tuesday, our concern was mainly that she wasn't drinking any proper water. My worry was that we had gotten this far only to need to worry about dehydration in a hurry.

The three and a half hour car ride seemed to convince Goethe that water was a good thing, though. She's back to drinking normally and eating pretty well at this point. Her head is usually at a slight tilt when she walks - and that might never go away. She's shy about stairs and when she's excited she forgets all about how to walk in a straight line. Yesterday, though, she chased down two squirrels in the park all on her own and gave them a good chase in the process. She can give puppy kisses any time she wants without so much as a stumble.

It's hard to keep a good dog down. And while our holiday week was strewn with worry and watching over her, I can only imagine the trip back that Goethe took to return home to us. Superstition says that one should take care of all leftover business before the new year. I think her timing seems like it will be pretty good.