12/30/2003

12-30-03 - 3

12-30-03

Fucking dumb broken TiVo software. I want to watch Law & Order. I have a season pass. Hmm.. there are no epsiodes recorded. Why not? Hmm.. Law & Order is on right now (it's always on) and nothing is being taped!? Why not? Hmm.. it's in my Season Pass list, everything looks good. When I View Upcoming episodes, only 1 of the 30 have a record symbol. WTF !? I cancel the season pass and get it again. Ok, now everything looks proper. This is a problem I've known about for a while, it's incredibly frustrating. What makes it even more frustrating is that manipulating your record list takes like several seconds per click, and it's very very annoying. With proper software it would be instantaneous. And don't tell me it's the hardware - even if they put a 1 MHz CPU in the thing (which is slower than you can even buy these days), that would be plenty fast so that all the clicks would be instantaneous (all the fancy video interface shite would have to go, though).

God damn you bad programmers out there! This is what many managers don't understand. Programmers are not interchangeable. The guys who wrote Windows Media Player - they're shite! The guys who wrote the TiVo software - shite! If I was in charge of a team that was making junk like this, I'd be ashamed, and we'd be in there working 24/7 to fix it, but really we never would have written such shite in the first place. This is not difficult stuff, it doesn't require some amazing algorithms, it's just a matter of doing your job somewhat competently. The worst thing is that these packages do have some bits of very good code down in the internals, but the UI and installers and database management and high level stuff is just so bad it hides that.

The TiVo box "We're Sorry.. This might take a minute" should be changed to "We're sorry.. we fucking suck at programming; we were only taught Java in college, we think we're 3lit3 haxors, but we can't code a linked list, and we don't even know what a tree is, we drive BMW's and think Linux is cool."

12-30-03 - 2

12-30-03

Dating and serious relationships are so incredibly different, it's amazing that the one turns into the other. Sort of like a caterpillar and butterfly, though often the other way round.

12-30-03 - 1

12-30-03

Is my love for Kids In the Hall based solely on their cool theme song?

What's worse - snot hanging from your nose, or snot wiped on your t-shirt? I am faced with this classic dilemma almost daily.

Playing the Game of Life with my family, we encountered an interesting game theory problem. Here it is boiled down - ten players each has a card numbered from 1 to 10 (one of each). They are initially distributed in order, eg. the first player has #1, etc. The game has ten turns (each person goes once). On each turn, first *everyone* collects chips equal to the number on their card. Next, the person whose turn it is may exchange their card with any other card (if they like). Play proceed clockwise through all the players. So, what is the optimal strategy? The naive strategy is to always take #10. The problem with that is the next player will then just take it from you! So, player 1 should do something more like take #7. My brother guesses there's no equilibrium, but he seems to be no fan of game theory.

I can't do math in my head quickly & correctly any more; I used to be able to jump several steps, you know like if you had a problem that goes A-B-C-D, I could just go A..D, you know? Just see the answer. My younger brothers make fun of me. Ha! They too will grow old and feeble-minded soon!

12/29/2003

12-29-03 - 1

12-29-03

My Christmas trip has gotten me addicted to slovenly short-term pleasures : I play online poker while watching TV, eating desserts, and drinking booze. Arg, it makes me feel sick, but it feels so good!

Cleverness gets you 99% of the way very quickly. The problem is that when you take the fast clever approach, that last 1% is very difficult. For example, in Physics, you can almost write down the answer to most problems based on symmetry and conservation and knowing the basic terms and proportionalities that must be involved. The trouble with this is that you're missing the constant factor in front, and to get it you've got to go do all the full careful work.

12/27/2003

12-27-03 - 2

12-27-03

I got my brother James the video games XIII ("Thirteen") and KotOR for Christmas. Funny comments overheard as he's playing are - "this game is cool, but I don't care about any Star Wars stories" (as he skips the cinematics in KotOR); "yeah, this game is almost as tedious as Half-Life" (says a friend watching James play a semi-cinematic segment of XIII); James also frequently complained about any way that XIII differed from Halo or Counter-Strike, and about the lack of checkpoints.

I dig XIII. The toon rendering style is cool; I love the little windows they show when you get a head-shot, and they pop up sometimes at surprising times, like when you toss a grenade into an enemy fox-hole. The music is perfect, and the cinematics are gorgeous, and the story isn't in sultingly bad like most games. The weapons are nicely balanced, they feel good, require skill, and each has strengths and weaknesses. It has a lot of annoying gameplay glitches - we died or lost various times and were left going "what the fuck happened?" or "why didn't that work?"; another few months of polish would have been good.

12-27-03 - 1

12-27-03

What did our troops die for in Iraq? Apparently it was the right for our country to work on the reconstruction.

When you cleverly dodge your taxes by taking business expenses instead of pay (or using any number of shelters), you are basically screwing the poor. When the rich don't pay their share, the result is that taxes must be higher overall, so the non-rich are forced to make up the difference. Any rich liberal who brags about how cleverly they got their tax payments down to 20% is quite a hypocrite. However, everyone does it, so why not me too? Of course the same thing goes for any tax cuts for the rich; proportionately, that screws the poor. There's no such thing as "it's good for me and it doesn't hurt anyone else". When you reduce your share, that increases others share (proportionately, which is all that matters).

The real defining characteristic of the social environment in the 00 decade (this decade has no real name yet) is the strong formation of "scene" groups,and the fact that all of them are snoby, elitist, unaccepting, cliquey, exclusionary, etc. All the characteristics of the "preppy" crowd in the 90's have been adopted by every scene in the 00's. The so-called punk scene, the retro-ironic scene, the hipsters the emo kids, and the ever-present frat crowd, all of them are fashion-oriented, superficial, condescending, etc. There's no real anti-clique movement, like grunge was for a while in the 90's (before it became a clique of its own), or like the true hippies were, etc. I dub this the "scene" generation, and you are all "scenesters".

Verb. Hit the after-xmas sales. Scanned: Express, GAP, Banana Republic, Urban Outfitters. Depressing - are these the only places that exist to shop? They're all so bland and typical and boring. Of course you can hit the little boutiques too, but 1) they're mainly for women and 2) they're pricey. Back to the thrift stores I go... oh, and I refuse to shop anywhere that sells skater or surf wear, Dickies, or Von Dutch. I prefer a prep to a fake rebel - at least a prep is honest about wanting to fit in and impress people.

12/26/2003

12-26-03 - 1

12-26-03

Most tech people who aren't business-savvy plan too far ahead. In my experience, there's a certain type of smart tech person who is willfully uninterested in practical matters that they feel shouldn't exist, but do. These people tend to plan to minimize the total long-term work for themselves. That's an extremely bad way to plan. I've been thinking about cross-platform recently. It's not secret that Oddworld is currently Xbox- exclusive, but of course we won't stay that way forever. Maybe we'll just go to Xbox2 when the time comes, or who knows what other platform we'll wind up on. So, how do we prepare for that? Our imaginary techie would make the entire engine cross-platform, abstracted, data-driven. That's huge mistake. My approach - completely ignore the future (for now). Make an Xbox-only engine, make it damn good. When the time comes to deal with another platform, deal with it then. Of course the time frame is important, I'm not considering going cross-platform any time very soon. All your great plans for the future will come to nothing unless your current game is damn good. I see all these startup game companies that are building the "coolest 3d engine ever" which they'll use in "all their future titles". Of course, they don't even finish one, or if they do, it's a bad game. Guess what, that "cool 3d engine" (which was probably crap anyway) goes in the garbage. Better to make your current game good.

12/24/2003

12-24-03 - 2

12-24-03

Sean Connery is the only decent Bond. He has an amazing rough sexuality which he exudes without ever being crude or forceful. He's my role model for dating - don't say anything crass, just be charming and polite while saying "I will make love to you in the alley on our way out" with your eyes.

12-24-03 - 1

12-24-03

My family's been playing Munch a bit in the last few days. They never played it when it came out, and it's been interesting to see them play now. It's been my chance to see it clearly too, since I was tainted close to development. Some things I've seen -

  • It's very difficult for people involved with production to see the product with any clarity. The only people who really saw the game clearly were the MS guys (Phil, Andrew, Jesse, Troy, Steve, Chris) that came in late to help us. Everyone at Oddworld was seeing something other than what was in the actual product.
  • My sister thought the voices and characters were great. However, they really weren't played up well. I could tell from her reactions that if the humor and character just kept going strong, she would have been laughing and loving it. Instead, once you see the characters for a few seconds, the novelty is over, and they don't give you anything to keep you interested. There could have been a lot more variations and little moments that really played up the characters and humor more.
  • Wow, the controls just *suck*. This is a hard one, since I did a lot of the code on the basic motion and controls. The movement is twitchy and hard to control. The jump button frequently doesn't respond when you hit it. The jump itself is way too fast. This is something that Phil Teschner and Jon Blow argued about strongly during development, and I agreed. I tried to do a little work to improve the jump button response, but it just wasn't a priority, and the game ended up being un-responsive and full of latency.
  • Overloaded A button. Everyone in my family is horribly frustrated by this. You try to sneak up behind a Slig and pick him up. You hit A and jump instead, which alerts him and blows the whole thing. Munch is getting smacked and you want to use a vendo; you hit A and jump instead, or zap a fuzzle cage, etc.
  • Tap/Hold on the buttons giving you two different actions. I thought this was a good idea, and it feels just fine to me, because I know how to do it. The rest of my family, however, is totally confused by it. My little brother thought that holding was always a stronger version of tapping, so holding was always better. This is probably because that's actually true for "Hello"/"All of ya" and because you often need to hold down the jump button to make it actually do it.
  • The graphics kind of blow. The Snoozer and some of the other characters look good, but the backgrounds just look really flat, almost semi-cardboard-cutout looking. The fake lighting model and texturing and low poly counts and such are just no good. The artists believe that they can make things look great with polys and textures, but it's just not true. You need dynamic lighting and consistent imaging to really make a world look 3d, rounded, responsive, real. It's the difference between a virtual world and a diorama.
  • Not enough of what's fun. We love playing the Snoozer. We kind of like the crane. We enjoy throwing bombs. We like the races in the wheel-chair, like Paramite run and Brewery To Be. These things occur far too rarely.
  • Too much of what's tedious. Doing the same task over and over, like picking up Mudokons and throwing them somewhere - that's very tedious. Because the controls and jumping are so bad, any kind of jumping puzzle is horrible. Many people at Oddworld took this to mean that "jumping puzzles aren't fun". No - they're fine in Mario, Crash, Jak, etc. They're bad in Munch because the control and the puzzles are rot.
  • Basic misunderstanding of the core mechanics. Two major things in Munch are just horribly broken - the two player respawning with the egg, and the spooce ball. The spooce ball can kill any enemy, just because depossessing kills them. This makes all enemies trivial, since you can regrow shrubs to get your spooceball at any time. Also, the egg respawning means you can never die, and it lets you teleport around the level. If you can get one of your guys across the level to another egg spawner, you can just kill off the other one and this lets you teleport your buddy. This lets you bypass lots of puzzles. These things would have been ok if they'd been understood better. I know from being there that up until very late, we wanted Munch to be more of a persistent world. It was only realized very late that everything had to respawn, it had to be more of a true puzzle game with set puzzles that reset themselves and force you to take them on as a whole. The puzzle model is fine, it's awesome in Klonoa or Heart of Darkness, but it's something you really have to embrace and understand in your game design.
  • My little brother says it's obvious the game was not play-tested enough. To quote - "I know why you guys didn't play-test enough, cuz you had to make launch, but most games don't, and they have no excuse".
  • My sister wanted to know if I did any of the voices. I could tell that I would be more famous in her eyes for doing a voice that I was for being (co-) lead programmer on the game. I think this is true for most people in the world.
  • The story's just totally incoherent and feels tacked on. (this is true of most games).
  • There's no climax to the game. As you go from level to level it just feels like one after another, there's no building excitement or the feeling that one level is harder or more exciting than the last.
  • The other big thing I noticed was how much trouble my sister had. Just controlling the characters was something she had to learn, it wasn't intuitive at all. All the things that the hardcore player finds frustrating were absolutely crucial to her (like all the signs and shamans and popup screens and such). There's really a huge gulf between hardcore players and casual players, and it seems to me almost impossible to make a game that both can enjoy. You'd have to make the game very configurable, where many things were optional and there were quite different play styles possible. Which brings me to the next point -
  • Always make your controls configurable. Just because you think you came up with a great scheme, don't lock it in. In the case of Munch, we put the camera on the DPad; it should have been on the right stick. If the controls were configurable, the players could have fixed that mistake themselves.

12/20/2003

12-20-03 - 1

12-20-03

Freaking Joel on Software is a bunch of plattitudes and truisms and the bastard is famous.

I think the modern ironic-rock, tongue-in-cheek 70's style is totally pretentious and condescending, but I like it anyway. It rocks.

Dave at work described some incredibly complicated scheme for short-selling stock. Here's my scheme - you make a contract with someone that goes like this - at the end of the short period, you will buy the stock at the market price at that time, and sell it to them for the price at the beginning of the short. Very simple. If the stock goes down, you make money equal to the difference in price. If the stock goes up, they make money similarly. Why in the world is this system not used?

12/10/2003

12-10-03 - 2

12-10-03

Our country's entire concept of crime prevention doesn't work on terrorists. We try to prevent crime by punishing criminals, trying to scare would-be criminals with the death penalty and such - look, if you do wrong, think of the consequences. These techniques are very poor against criminals in general (this has been statistically proven; harsher penalties do not reduce crime rates), but especially poor against someone as desperate and determined as a terrorist. Our other major technique is trying to capture them before the fact. This is marred by constant mistakes because it's very hard to exactly identify terrorists. The result is that we end up disturbing the lives of the people and killing many innocents, which of course just increases resentment towards us and breeds more terrorists.

12-10-03 - 1

12-10-03

Architecture is almost too powerful an art form. You can make a painting or a photograph that is uncomfortable, sad, bleak, grotesque, sickening. Sure, it may be moving when you look at it, but you can simply look away, and return to the space you're in. When you go into a physical space that makes you feel that way, it sneaks up on you, and then creeps into you, and you feel it from the inside, and you can't escape it - you have to leave. Because of this, the emotional palette of architecture has been limitted to positives - cozy, grand, impressive, elegant, cheery, quiant, etc. We had a brief expansion with Bauhaus and the International style, where a slightly broader palette of positives was introduced - pure, starkly beautiful - though there was something bad about the beginning of the modern period, which was that some architects started making buildings that appealed to critics instead of spaces that could be felt by the average people who were in them. Spaces should be visceral things which are felt at a base level by anyone with a sensitive spine and tingling hairs on the back of their neck (probing the air like antenae). They should not be things you have to ponder and compare to previous works, think of their allegorical meaning, their symbolism or message, that's intellectual snobbery and masturbation.

old rants