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On content reuse

Earlier this month, I finished my playthrough of Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II. If you missed the first one, my review has unmarked spoilers related to the ending of the first and therefore the set-up for the second.

In the first Force Unleashed, you take the roll of Starkiller. He is apparently the most powerful Jedi ever and has been indoctrinated since youth by Darth Vader to be his apprentice. To this end, Starkiller's been hunting down Jedi who escaped the purge at the end of Episode III. Over the course of the game, he meets a woman and begins to doubt the mission that he has been given. Eventually, he turns on Vader and helps to form the rebel alliance. However, forming the Rebel Alliance was always Vader's plan for Starkiller--doing so would gather them in one place where they could be destroyed. In the end, he dies fighting the Emperor in order to allow the Rebel leaders to have time to escape.

Since the main character is canonically dead, it would seem as though making a sequel would be difficult. Fortunately, cloning is a fact of the Star Wars universe, so they just clone a copy of Starkiller and start things up again. Vader, for whatever reason, has been cloning Starkiller. Most copies have been failures, but this one at least hasn't gone insane yet.

Given the say these things tend to go, Starkiller quickly breaks out and attempts to find both the woman he loved and (by coincidence) the rebel alliance he helped form.

Gameplay wise, Force Unleashed II is essentially identical to its predecessor. Very little has been changed in that area, though there are new, force-empowered enemies that are rather common and immune to many of the force powers that you can level up. In the late game, the game likes to throw large groups of jedi-clones at you. This leads to very annoying fights where you can only use lightsaber attacks and none of the high level force powers are of any use.

My real complaint with the game came when I made a second pass and made a strong realization. On the second run through, I realized that the game only actually has about 4 levels. To extend the apparent length of the game, the developers have you run through each level twice. Furthermore, the game commits the primary sin of Clive Barker's Clive Barker's Jericho (by Clive Barker)--its encounters are slightly too long and much too similar. Encounters with enemies should have things that differentiate them and make each one at least slightly unique. This game manages to forget that and have wave after wave of samey encounter.

Ultimately, I don't think the game has enough content to justify its existence.

Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II: 0

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Plodding

Last week, I finished my run through Condemned: Criminal Origins. It had been in my 360 since before the holidays, but I'd been distracted by other things and just got around to finishing it.

The PC in Condemned is a law enforcement officer with a track record of capturing serial killers. Lately, however, he has been in a slump. The last few killers that he had been investigating have apparently gone to ground, their trails ice cold, soon after he begins pursuing them. The game starts with him doing an investigation into a new killer.

Soon into the investigation of the most recent murder scene, the PC is ambushed and has his gun stolen. The thief makes various comments that seem to allude to a greater knowledge of the PC before running off. Said thief very soon kills two police agents with the PC's gun and leaves him wanted for two cop killings. The PC then flees to pursue the real killer, find the missing serial killer (who doesn't seem to be the same person as the one who took his gun) and to clear his name.

Although the plot of the game sounds as good a starting point as any, the later end of the plot quickly decays into a rather disjointed mess as (insufficiently explained) supernatural forces begin to pop up as the ultimate root of all the madness. This is compounded by the fact that--although the PC is ostensibly being driven to clear his name for two murders--by the time even the first level is completed, he has murdered at least a dozen people. To me, this made deep motivations very unclear.

Condemned is a mess, gameplay wise. The game uses a first person perspective, but uses melee combat as the most common form of interaction with enemies. This style choice results in rather frustrating interactions if you get surrounded or are hit from behind and have to very slowly pan around with the analog stick. Furthermore, the game is deliberately drawn out by the insufferably slow moving speed of the character. The game also uses a checkpoint/autosave as its primary method of saving. While nice in theory, Condemned's checkpoints store complete game state, so if you were two steps ahead of an enemy who is about to stab you to death, you're stuck being stabbed to death every time you load (unless you choose to restart the level of course).

It also doesn't help that the game probably would have looked at home on the Dreamcast. Although I understand that it is a five year old game and an early title in the current generation, but it has aged very poorly. Consider that Jade Empire, Devil May Cry 3, and Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones are contemporaries and consider in that light. It also mostly takes place in badly lit sewers or abandoned buildings, resulting in a lot of generic, gray/brown, destroyed levels.

There wasn't much for me to like here. I tend to enjoy and seek out horror games, but this was yet another game that attempts to startle rather than to induce an actual environment of fear and apprehension.

Condemned: Criminal Origins: 0

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Heading West

Last week, I fired up my 360 and decided that I wanted to play more Dead Rising 2. I'd mostly played that game to death, though, so I decided to instead play Case West. Case West is a standalone DLC / epilogue to the Dead Rising 2 storyline. Because of its status as an epilogue, expect unmarked Dead Rising 2 spoilers below.

At the beginning of Case West, Chuck is fighting off a zombified TK. Into the scene enters Frank West (he's covered wars, you know) carrying a baseball bat. After saving Chuck, Frank quickly realizes who he's just saved and questions Chuck about his role in the zombie outbreak in the city. Chuck still needs to clear his name, so he and Frank team up to go to a nearby Phenotrans (the Dead Rising universe's Umbrella Corp) facility.

Said facility supposedly has a contact that Frank had been working with to get inside information on Phenotrans to help expose them. Chuck goes along under the assumption that the facility might have evidence to incrimination Phenotrans for the Fortune City outbreak and to help clear his own name.

Gameplay in Case West is mostly identical to that in DR2. The main difference is that there is an ever present CPU (or coop) companion in Frank. Mostly though, he just distracts enemies. This function turns out to be vitally important, however, due to the very large number of non-zombie enemies who carry firearms. Although there were some such enemies in the main game, Case West is quite full of them and they are a major source of unfun in Case West. Since being hit by an enemy, even by an attack that doesn't cause you to actually lose a hit point, causes you to drop any two-handed weapon, their long-range machine guns quickly become the bane of Chuck and Franks' existences as you're dropping weapons or having attacks interrupted. This is especially bad in the "zombie pens"--one of the largest rooms and one often used for transit between other areas--because these gun wielders are numerous and in areas which are somewhat isolated from the main travel paths.

At the very beginning I was confused by Case West. Although I'd beaten DR2 multiple times, I'd always gotten Ending S (the best ending, at least based on PP reward) because it is so easy to get. It turns out that Case West begins from Ending A (the second best), instead. This seems to me like a strange shift since Dead Rising 2 seemed to follow from the best ending to the original Dead Rising. Before I learned about that decision, I was wondering why the game made no references to Chuck's daughter or love interest and was completely at a loss for why Chuck would abandon them to go off on a jaunt with Frank.

Overall, I wasn't that impressed with Case West. The human enemies detract from a lot of the fun and the plot really doesn't do much for the series as a whole--it's basically just a setup for a sequel.

Dead Rising 2: Case West: 0


Published by XPostcurses
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V6

So, my dsl provider has a relatively easy to use IPv6 tunnel brokering service. Since I've been running the various blade.io addresses out of a server on the DSL, I decided to try to set up IPv6 on them.

Initially, I had some problems because the NetBSD tools didn't like the address allocations for the tunnels themselves. I ultimately resolved this by just using one of the Linux machines on the same connection to be the local end of my tunnel instead. So far, I've only set up two of my machines to be able to use the IPv6 connection: freasha and momo.blade.io. They both seem to have connectivity, but since I don't really have a good way for getting a connection back to verify, it would be useful if someone else with IPv6 connectivity could verify that those machines are reachable from the IPv6 internet.

Incidentally, Sonic.net gives out stupidly large allocations of addresses to people using their IPv6 tunnels. My allocation was 2001:05a8:0004:5d10::/60. This is 2^68 addresses (2^4 more than the minimum allocation size) or about 295147905179352825856 addresses. I've only set myself up to use the 2001:05a8:0004:5d10::/64 space so far as I thought it would be wasteful to put all of those addresses in the same space. Also, using a /64 means that I can just use IPv6 stateless configuration to make the whole thing go. Unfortunately, I still haven't quite figured out how to make the default routes propagate, so I've had to feed them in manually. I'm sure there is a way to do it, but it isn't at all obvious from the configuration file man page...

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Roundup

It has been a while since I last posted a game review. Partially, this was due to me playing a number of mediocre games that I just didn't feel motivated to write about. Partially, this was due to laziness. Regardless, here is the quick roundup of what I've played since the last time I posted:

Ghostbusters

I played it on the 360. The game had well written dialog and a slightly interesting plot, but the gameplay was very, very uneven and it was obvious that parts of it had been cut to make a budget or ship date.

Rating: 0

Scott Pilgrim: The Videogame

I played in on the 360. This made me nostalgic for The Simpsons Arcade Game which is a fond memory from my youth. I thought it played very well, but the game was a bit unstable. I suspect that Adobe Flash is to blame for this. Regardless, it was solid and I'd recommend it.

Rating: 1

Resistance 2

Just another console FPS. I didn't find anything here to make me feel excited. It wasn't horrible, nor was it enthralling.

Rating: 0

Scribblenauts

Once the novelty of being able to summon Cthulhu wear off, this game is rather uninteresting. Almost every level can be beaten with a half-dozen or fewer common objects. I quickly began to start almost every level by summoning a black hole and probably a few lengths of chain or rope.

Rating: 0

Metroid: Other M

I was deeply conflicted about this game. Fundamentally, the gameplay here is quite good and it plays enough like the old 2D platform games did to really keep me hooked. The real issue, though, is the new characterization of Samus. She has gone from the strong "silent protagonist" type to something else entirely. Others have written extensively about the themes of psychological abuse that can be read into the story, so I won't rehash them here.

Rating: 0

Red Alert 2

Although I have been a longtime player of the Command & Conquer series (I had the original C&C for DOS), I had never gotten around to playing Red Alert 2 until just recently. I had obtained it back in college with a set of "Laptop Games" which I bought in order to get the expansion to Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri. Considering that the game is over a decade old, it has aged very well and was still full of the old C&C charm.

Rating: 1 (but you really shouldn't need me to tell you this)

Dissidia: Final Fantasy

What happens if you combine a fighting game with the grind of a Japanese-style RPG? Answer: Dissidia. On the other hand, the game is perhaps the most cinematic fighting game that I've ever played, but I'm not certain that that is enough.

Rating: 0

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

A classic adventure game. Unfortunately, badly clued games have somewhat gone out of fashion and, even with the graphical update, I found some parts to be arbitrary and frustrating. I've yet to finish the second game for similar reasons.

Rating: 0

Fallout: New Vegas

New Vegas feels a lot like a total conversion mod of Fallout 3, mostly because it kindof is. I thought that New Vegas did manage to give somewhat more freedom to the PC by giving real choice about endings and removing any "invincible" or "essential" NPCs. Those choices gave the game a greater sense of weight than I thought Fallout 3 had. Of course, many of the engine bugs from Fallout 3 persist, but I've long since forgiven them.

Rating: 1

The Polynomial

This was a pickup at one of the Steam Xmas sales. Basically, you play in an X-Wing style space shooter with a universe procedurally generated based on music. It sounds cool in theory, but turns out to be mind-numbingly boring after about 20 minutes.

Rating: 0

Machinarium

I actually got this as part of the Humble Indy Bundle a while back, but only recently got around to playing it. Despite it being an adventure game very much like Monkey Island above, it manage to feel somewhat less arbitrary and had an internal hint system that made it feel like I wasn't cheating just because I couldn't figure out which object to rub against which other object. Also, the fact that it manages to tell such a compelling story without any dialog was rather impressive to me.

Rating: 1

Alpha Protocol

Another Steam sale pickup. This game feels much like Deus Ex in its genre and story: conspiracies inside of conspiracies and the like. Unfortunately, this game has one of the worst cases of Console-itis that I've yet to see in a PC game. Controls for ability selection are tedious when they should have been hot keys. Some menus "support" the mouse, but don't quite work correctly. This causes the entire control system to feel somewhat shoddy. Nevertheless, the plot is quite interesting and most gameplay is still within the realm of acceptable. Overall, I'd recommend just playing Deus Ex again instead.

Rating: 0

Aliens vs. Predator (2010)

This is the third AvP game that I've played on the PC and it is probably the weakest of them. Each individual campaign seems short--I think they were about 6 missions each. It seemed as though the three stories were supposed to weave together to create a single narrative, but weird timing discrepancies made me lose my suspension of disbelief, which is never a good sign. I'm of the opinion that AvP 2 (released in 2001) is probably a better game.

Rating: 0

Dead Rising 2

Of all the games on this list, Dead Rising 2 is the game which ate the most of my free time and the only one which will get a full review. The first Dead Rising game was what caused me to purchase a 360, so I was somewhat excited about the sequel. Nevertheless, I held back because of my giant backlog. Instead, I ended up getting Case Zero (the prequel, stand alone DLC). After playing through it two or three times, I immediately went out and purchased the full game.

For those unaware, Dead Rising is a zombie game. In the predecessor, zombies broke out in a small town in the Midwest. Since then, there have been other zombie outbreaks around the US, but things have mostly been contained. Knowledge of zombies is now widespread. The player character, Chuck Greene, lost his wife to a zombie outbreak a few years before the start of the game. His daughter was also bitten, but hasn't yet turned due to daily injections of an antidote called Zombrex which keeps her from turning, but only at one day per dose. In order to afford the extremely expensive medication, Chuck competes on a pay-per-view event called "Terror Is Reality" in which zombies are dismembered in various ways to entertain the masses.

After one taping of TIR, the zombies used for the event are released and overrun the city of Fortune City (a lawyer-friendly clone of Las Vegas). For reasons that he doesn't understand, Chuck is framed for the release of the zombies and must attempt to clear his name, save himself and his daughter from the outbreak, and get enough Zombrex to keep his daughter from turning.

The game plays very much like its predecessor: large open areas to explore, tons of zombies, dozens of ways to kill them. The game has managed to improved in several important ways: Firstly, the game finally allows you to have multiple save games. Moreover, it is completely possible to beat the game in your first play through--something essentially impossible in the first game. Also, survivor AI has improved markedly which makes saving said survivors far easier.

Perhaps the best change in this iteration is that the vast majority of the world is open to you at the beginning of the game. In the former, you had to work slowly to open it piece by piece through story progression and every new game required you to do most of the unlocking from scratch. This time, only a few areas remain unlocked, and those mostly open up quickly.

Overall, I probably played at least 8 passes through the entire game which is somewhat remarkable for me, as is paying full price at a big-box store for it.

Rating: 1!

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Well, that mostly wraps up the last 4+ months of my gaming life. Going forward, I'll try to go back to the one at a time format to allow for more in-depth evaluation.


Published by XPostcurses
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Availability

So, I currently have a couple of duplicates of games. I've had them too long to return them and have no desire to give sell them to Gamestop or the like, so I'm going to put them up for offer here instead.

Firstly, I have Deadly Premonition. It is a survival horror / thriller game for the 360. I have a second copy of this because my brother got me a copy for Xmas and I had previously already obtained one.

Secondly, I have Comdemned 2. I believe it is also a horror game (though I've not played it yet). I have a second copy of this because I picked one up and then saw a good deal on it and picked it up again because I couldn't remember whether or not I had purchased it.

Regardless, if you want either of them, you should comment on the LJ post for this.

Published by XPostGTK+
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It all makes sense now

RPG that I want to play or run:

Euler as a time traveler stuck in the 1700s and trying get back home. Spends years corresponding with other mathematicians to try to get enough knowledge together to rebuild the one missing part to his machine. Party is either a group of intelligentsia who've stumbled onto the truth or artisans contracted to repair his equipment (maybe both?).

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Simple Path

Yesterday, I wrote a blog post that was apparently full of spelling errors. I only became aware of this when Imani let me know that there were many such errors and instructed me to fix them. At that point, I decided to finally add spell check to XPost. Previously, I had been avoiding it because I thought that it would be a pain or not work well across platforms.

My initial attempt was to write a small wrapper library that would use aspell through a pipe. I had much difficulty in this due to the input and output streams coming out of sync for reasons that weren't entirely clear to me. As such, I grudgingly decided to look at using the c# interoperability features built into Mono and then use the aspell C API.

After reading through the documentation on the C# interop features, I threw together a small (less than 100 lines) interface to the underlying C library. The entire thing took less than half an hour, once I had a decent feel for the c# interop stuff and worked on the very first attempt. I was quite surprised at how streamlined the entire process was.

After getting the underlying API for the program to use, I had to integrate it with the two GUIs that I have for XPost. I did the NCurses GUI first because I have lately been using the NCurses version more heavily. I also had been the one who wrote the "text box" widget used in the NCurses implementation (one hadn't existed before). That led me to thinking that it would be easier for me. After some mucking about and relearning the oddities of my code (Why did I decide that the variable "word" meant the amount of the line accumulated thus far, rather than having it represent an actual word?), it was relatively easy to mark misspelled words by just inverting the coloring of them on the console. I use a private use XML character (0xE999) to denote toggles of correct to incorrect and then parse them out at during the rendering. A bit ugly, perhaps, but it means that I didn't need to dramatically change the general rendering loop. In total, there were perhaps 5 lines changed and 6 new lines to implement.

The GTK# GUI was even easier once I had read the documentation. It apparently has a concept called the TextTag that allows you to apply semantic information to a range of characters in a buffer. You can also associate a special rendering style which will be applied to tagged text automatically. Once I knew that, it was a simple matter of creating the appropriate TextTag and associating it with the buffer (about 6 lines of code total) and then setting up a callback to spell check and tag the text whenever a new character is typed (also short at under 30 lines).

I did decide to go back and add some compatibility code. Since it is possible for a system to not have aspell installed, I wrote some wrapper code that checks for its availability and disables the spell check should it not have access to the necessary libraries. In truth, I actually wrote it rather generically, so that there is an abstract SpellChecker class of which the aspell implementation is just one possibility. I then have some reflection code which iterates over all possible spell checkers and tries to instantiate each. If it can't find one, it simply returns a null checkers (it says every word is spelled correctly). Since library loading is done at run time, it is actually rather robust. This also means that if I ever decide to work on making the Windows version work again, I would be able to drop in a replacement spell checking library by writing a thin wrapper around it and letting the reflection code do the heavy lifting. I think that overall, this is a nice, low maintenance solution to the problem.

Of course, it won't save me when I write "responsed" instead of "responeded".

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I, destroyer of worlds

A little while back Greg mentioned via twitter a grammatical rule relating to the discussion of narratives. Essentially, the rule he stated (which may even be correct) is that one should always use the present tense when discussing events of a game. I immediately disagreed, and Greg responded that "narratives persist across readings". This made me begin to think about how I think about narratives.

When I think about any narrative (game, novel, comic, etc.), I tend to speak and think about things in a strange way. If I'm discussing the premise or early setup of the work, then I tend to use the present tense. For example, from my review of Valkyria Chronicles: "Valkyria Chronicles takes place in an alternate history version of World War II." The strange thing for me though, is that I begin to think of things as being in the past the further forward in a story you go. For instance, if I was discussing Final Fantasy VII, I might say that Sephiroth killed Aeris or that Aeris died. This tendency is even stronger for me if I am playing a game where I strongly identify with a protagonist and is most likely to occur when I begin speaking of the actions of my avatar as if they were my own (e.g., I attacked the bandit camp and managed to kill them all without wasting a single stimpack).

After reaching this realization, it started an introspective jaunt while I attempted to rationalize my absolutely contradictory verbiage. I've come to the conclusion that I think about narratives as something that are inherently consumed as I move through them. Since I can always go back to the beginning, that part remains ever the present. The middle and end, however, are in my own past and I tend to address them as such. To me, those actions are as set in stone as any other history. In a sense, when I move through the story, I am incrementally and permanently destroying the work--removing it from the future and throwing it into the past.

I wonder if I am the only one who thinks of narratives in such a way.

Published by XPostcurses