One Factorial

Though I've mentioned it elsewhere, I thought it would be useful to post about my new video game reviews site: One Factorial. I've so far collected all of my previous game reviews there. Additionally, I posted a review yesterday on the Penumbra series of games. I'll continue to inform here when I post new reviews, but I won't have full reviews anywhere else now.

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Amendment One

As many may be aware, I have a mild interest in constitutional law and periodically read court decisions which spark my interest. Today, the decision in BROWN v. EMA was handed down. For those unaware, this case is about a law, passed in California, which would make it illegal for certain "violent video games" to be sold or rented to minors. The court decided 7-2 that the law was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech and the main opinion did have some nice gems. From a footnote:

One study, for example, found that children who had just finished playing violent video games were more likely to fill in the blank letter in explo_e with a "d" (so that it reads "explode") than with an "r" ("explore"). App. 496, 506 (internal quotation marks omitted). The prevention of this phenomenon, which might have been anticipated with common sense, is not a compelling state interest.

The decision itself was quite broad and made light of the fact that any new medium quickly becomes the apparent corrupter of the young and that the First Amendment care not for about the medium and will not lightly allow the restriction of speech based on content.

More interesting than the main decision, to me at least, were the Alito concurrence and the dissents. The Alito concurrence was enlightening as it pointed out that this case could have easily reached the same immediate result (the striking down of the California law) without reaching the broad First Amendment question. In fact Alito argues the standard line that video games are a rapidly evolving medium in which research is unavailable and where this sort of broad decision may be premature. Instead, he favored deciding the case on a vagueness problem with the initial statute. It seems that the fact the SCOTUS decided on the broader ruling when a narrower one was available to it is a good sign for the treatment of video games as a serious literary and critical medium. The Alito concurrence also has the obligatory references to both RapeLay and the Super Columbine Massacre RPG that must, by law, be included in any discussion of video game violence.

The Thomas dissent causes me greater concern, however. In its opening paragraph, it includes this line:

The practices and beliefs of the founding generation establish that "the freedom of speech," as originally understood, does not include a right to speak to minors (or a right of minors to access speech) without going through the minors' parents or guardians.

While there may be truth in his statement regarding the beliefs of the founders, I do not think that a strict constructionist view is a useful place to begin a discussion of modern speech rights--especially as they relate to minors (but then, I've never had a lot of patience for the strict constructionist arguments). The court noted in the main opinion the inherent flaws with this argument related to religious expression or access. Additionally, they noted the lunacy of expecting explicit parental permission for minors to be able to access the (admittedly curtailed) political speech rights that they have.

Mostly, I think it is a good sentence to show exactly where Thomas is from a "core values" perspective; though, Thomas does spend great length explaining the intricate and complex nature of the parent-child relationship, as it was evolving during the Revolutionary period. Of course, such a discussion assumes that, at the moment the First Amendment was ratified, the entire cultural state was carved into the back of it as forever immutable addenda.

Breyer also was the sole other dissent. His dissent focused somewhat on how the statutes here were constructed to be very similar to other statutes about obscenity (which had been ruled constitutional), yet this statue was being struck down on vagueness. Although he uses this stance to argue that this restriction was constitutional, in my mind, it mere raises questions about the obscenity statutes that have been allowed to persist so long with justification as flimsy as "everyone has always thought this stuff is bad, so shall it remain".

Breyer also included a rather exhaustive list of studies of video game violence as an appendix. Based on it, and the court record, he seemed to believe that there was a possible causal link between violence in video games and in children and hence believed that the law, as constructed, should have passed scrutiny.

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Ok, I want to play Portal 2 co-op. I've wanted to do this for like 3 weeks since I got the game, but couldn't due to the PSN outage. Now, though, I realize that my Steam friends list is rather short and few of them seem to have the game yet. So, does anyone else that I know have/use Steam, but not have me friended? My Steam name is (of course) guyblade.

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Periodic Cleanup

Yesterday, Imani asked me if I would host her falconry blog. I decided that it probably wasn't a huge security threat to do so (though Wordpress always makes me a bit nervous), so I went about setting up some stuff to make it possible.

This, of course, led me to realize that many of the packages on freasha were woefully out of date. I'm also running a version of NetBSD that is old enough to be out of support, so I got to do the fun task of downloading and installing packages built for (slightly) newer versions of NetBSD and hoping that I didn't have any crazy dependency failures.

NetBSD's package system (pkgsrc) is somewhat odd compared to other managers. Although it does dependency resolution, it doesn't seem to offer an easy way of upgrading one package to a later version. Instead, you have to delete one package and install the newer version thereof. Complicating this, the tool will not uninstall a package which is satisfying the dependencies of other packages unless you use the force option. This led to me doing perhaps too many "pkg_delete -f"s followed immediately by "pkg_add"s.

The only real issue that I had was with Apache. It seems that the version that I upgraded to separates almost all of the once compiled in functionality into loadable modules. This meant playing the fun game of 1) try to start websever, 2) webserver barfs on some config file directive, 3) me googling for the relevant directive, 4) me adding a line to my httpd.conf telling it to load the module. In total, I went from loading two modules previously (php and dav_svn) to loading 15 different ones (including such standbys as the 'log_config' module, the rewrite module, and the MIME module).

On the plus side, though, I finally updated my awstats configuration so that I get per-site stats now rather than aggregating stats across the whole server. This is most useful for the004show.com and for Imani's new site. It has been informative in learning about the somewhat bizarre search phrases that bring people to my site. I'll probably never understand why I get search results for "kiss on the bobs anime". No, that's not a typo. Apparently, some bobs needed kissing.

I'm rather sure this is not the best of all possible worlds.

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Infrastructure Upgrades

I've had a 19" rackmount for holding computer equipment since I built one my junior year of college. I've found it to be very handy and to scale well over time and as my equipment needs have changed. Lately, however, I had been annoyed with the difficulty of managing cables in the case that I'd built and with the accessibility of the back of machines. Doing some looking around, I found that Amazon had gotten into the business of selling rack equipment. Like other things, their prices were extremely competitive and for $325 (with free shipping), I eventually decided to replace my aging medium density fiberboard rack with something a bit sturdier.

Old rack mount
The Old Rack (foreground) with the New Rack (background)

The new rackmount came in a surprisingly compact box. It was 7 feet tall, but the cross-sectional area was less than 24 square inches. Of course, this box's density was very high and the "as packed" weight was 68 lbs according to make bathroom scale.

Assembly was rather easy; the new rack came in about 8 pieces which are held together with heavy-duty bolts. Though it says that it should be assembled by two people, I had very little trouble assembling it by myself. Actually assembly took less than an hour. Transferring equipment from the old rack and clearing floorspace for the new one took most of my effort.

New rack mount

Unfortunately, there was one thing that I wasn't adequately prepared for with the new rack. My old rack was less than 35 RU in total height. The new rack is 45 RU. Adding in the height of the non-usable top and bottom areas, the thing is over 7 feet tall. With all that space, I installed several of the smaller machines near the top. Despite having dozens of computer power cables, I only actually have about 2 that are longer than the standard 6 feet. As such, I have a couple of uninterruptible power supplies on a stool until I get replacement cables.

New rack mount

I also learned during the dismantling of the old rack that I had a lot of redundant equipment. I had at least 7 ethernet cables that were only plugged in on one end lying around in the rack. Presumably, this had been from me replacing equipment and never adequately cleaning up after. I also discovered that I had at least 10 uninterruptible power supplies. Given that I only have 8 machines in the rack, this is a bit of overkill. I know that some of the have died, but I never actually labeled which are bad. I've since identified one as definitely bad, but I probably won't know for sure about the others until the next power outage.

I'm pretty happy with how it turned out, though getting it out of my apartment may be a bit tricky...

Incidentally, I disassembled the old rackmount and put it in my closet. I'm not sure what I'll end up doing with it, but it is too big to move around easily and has just enough sentimental value that I'm reluctant to toss it right now. Maybe we'll see when I decide to move.

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Brick by Brick

Earlier this month, I played through 3D Dot Game Heroes. Like many things, I've been distracted and have only now gotten around to writing a review for it.

3D Dot Game Heroes is a parody / homage to the 16-bit era, top-down, action-adventure games of the mid-nineties. Specifically, the game most often reminded me of A Link to the Past. You take the role of a Hero (or Sage or Prince) and must go recover the six orbs to create the Light Orb and use it to defeat the Dark Bishop and his attempts to resurrect an ancient evil Dark King using the (unsurprisingly) Dark Orb.

Of course, the plot sounds ridiculous and hackneyed because it is deliberately trying to invoke the memories of those older games. Over the course of the game, there are numerous references dropped to various other games--people inside bomb-accessible caves who force you to pay to "fix their door", enemies who have "secret[s] to everybody", NPCs trying to trade their copies of Demon's Souls for the game you are currently playing, and other such fun bits. Taken together, it is a rather humorous little narrative that is built.

The gameplay in 3DGH is somewhat similar to the 2D Zelda games--you have a sword, you can have one "active" item, and you can block or dash. These make up the key abilities of the hero. The main difference, however, is that your sword is generally of a size best described as "unreasonable". Being at maximum health causes your weapon to be gigantic--often spanning an entire axis of the screen (or if you're using a fully upgraded infinity plus one sword both). Unfortunately, this leads to my main complaint about the game.

The game seems to be built so as to be played with the player's weapon at maximum power at all times. Being even half a hit point short of maximum health causes the weapon to revert to a far smaller and weaker version of the same. Although it is sometimes still usable, I found that losing a single tick of health would usually quickly spiral out to death due to the increased danger of having a shorter and weaker weapon. This kind of statistical instability led to some frustration on my part.

3DGH also seems to have decided to include the most annoying feature that has mostly been left behind in modern games: the lost forever item. In fact, the game has a large number of completely unclued quests which are lost forever if you do not do engage them at specific times. Worse yet, one of these quests spans the entire course of the game with a checkpoint between each major area. Miss a single checkpoint at the quest is failed. Not all of nostalgia is good.

Overall, I found the game entertaining, though I eventually resorted to a FAQ in order to find the unclued quests which were being triggered by quest advancement. If the game had cleaned up these few areas, I would have been able to recommend it without caveats. As is, however, I have to say that it is a niche title aimed (essentially) at people who are in their mid to late 20s.

3D Dot Game Heroes: 0

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