Saturday, November 27, 2010

Completion Bonus?

The day after Thanksgiving doesn't always feel like a Friday. Sure, I could go out to the stores and score some awesome deals, but I think it's the sort of shopping one would have to do without kids in tow. Frankly, I felt a little zombified - or maybe it was food coma, nobody was going to school, I wasn't going to Walmart. It seemed more like Saturday than Friday. I did a little bit of laundry, wrestled with the weed whacker, and put up a few strands of Christmas lights.

In between loads of laundry, I decided to pop in Pikmin 2 into the GameCube. Like its predecessor, once you beat the main game once, it opens up a "Challenge Mode". Where Pikmin has you play in the various areas from the single player game and try to grow as many Pikmin as you can in one day, each of Pikmin 2's challenges has you completing a small underground dungeon. Olimar and Louie command a small army of animal/plant hybrids that they call Pikmin - they are able to manipulate objects in the environment, and you cannot. You call them to you, throw them at objects to make them attack or carry them, and you have to figure out which of the five types of Pikmin are suitable for the task at hand. You get points for hauling back treasures, time left on the clock when you finish, and for how many Pikmin you have when you're done. There are 30 of these, unlike Pikmin's 5 areas in Challenge Mode. They are not all available at once, so you have a screen that shows you a leaf for each board that you have available, which turns into a white flower once you have completed it. If you are able to finish a board without losing any Pikmin in battle or to environmental hazards, it shows a pink flower instead of a white one. So, for years I had 24 pink flowers and 6 white ones on that screen. At some point I came back to the game and reduced it to 2 white ones, and then over the summer I reduced it to only one white flower.

Now where was I? Yes, in between loads of laundry. I pop the game in Friday, thinking I will give that last white flower another chance. Why do I bother to get them all? I bother to get them all because I know that the game has one more cinema that I haven't seen that is only unlocked by getting all pink flowers in challenge mode. I know that this movie is called "Louie's Dark Secret". I'm sure I could have just gone on youtube and watched the video, but I felt that it would be more rewarding if I actually did it myself. Happily, I finally got it - I went a little quickly and skipped a few treasures in the interest of having more time on the last level of the dungeon, and it paid off. My score was not as high as it could have been, but you get a pink flower for not losing Pikmin, and the score doesn't really matter. I'm not going to spoil it here, since I don't want to ruin it for anyone else. However, I will say that actually getting a perfect run on the last board was way more rewarding than the bonus movie. The one that I had not done until yesterday is the Emperor's Realm, and there are lots of opportunities to screw it up. The first four levels of the dungeon are easy enough, but each one has things that will trip you up and lose a Pikmin or two if you're not careful. The last level is genuinely difficult in the face of the time restriction. There are only three enemies, but only one of them has the key to the exit. A little bit of luck helps. If you don't get the key the first or second time, you don't have quite enough time or opportunity to defeat the third Emperor Bulblax.

Pikmin 2's bonus movie was cute - I think it might have been funnier for me if I had gotten it while I was still playing the game all the time and was more wrapped up in the storyline - but it wasn't much of a reward for mastery. Resident Evil 4 had the Handcannon that you got for skillfully getting a 5 star ranking in all of the Mercenary Mode levels, and that seemed like a reward. It actually gave you a reason to go back and replay the single player game, especially if you were able to upgrade it to infinite ammo. It completely changes the dynamic of the game without having to change any other part of the game - because you go from carefully conserving ammo to John Woo-style shell casings everywhere. Yes, it makes the game easier, but if you have already completed the game the hard way, it's a fun reward.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

HD Radio's last stand

HD Radio - which is neither High Definition nor Hybrid Digital, but instead just a brand name intended to make us think they meant one of those two things - was really trying to get people interested this holiday season. I really have to hand it to the consortium behind HD Radio. They're trying awfully hard to make their system viable for consumers. It's inexpensive, there's no subscription fees, it gives people more choices over things to listen to, and there are even hand held ones about to be available, but I suspect that they may have missed the proverbial boat.

Sadly, like over-the-air digital TV, there are a large number of people that could take advantage of it, but most of those people are paying a monthly subscription for a slightly better service, even despite the current economic climate. Some are just choosing to do without entirely. ( I think I am in the second category because I can't be bothered to change the stereo out in my car.)

I guess in the case of HD radio, the impediment for me is that between my CD player and analog FM, there's usually enough for me to listen to most of the time that I don't feel like I need to upgrade. Sure the sound is better, but that strategy stopped working a while ago. I cite as evidence the low adoption rates of SuperAudioCD, HDCD, and DVD-Audio and instead a move to lower fidelity mp3 players.

What's even more amazing about the current batch of HD radio ads that I hear on the radio is a lack of a specific product. At least when you watch a Pixar movie on DVD, they're hyping how awesome Blu-Ray is, and telling you what Disney and Pixar movies you can get on Blu-Ray. With the HD radio ads, it's more like:

"HD radio is awesome. Just ask us and we'll tell you. Go buy one anywhere!"

I used to hear Circuit City branded ads for HD radio, and I've been hearing a few for Radio Shack, but in addition to those, I've also hear a lot of generic unbranded HD radio ads (presumably bought by the consortium to increase their reach). I guess that this holiday season is some sort of all-out-last-ditch effort to get people on HD radio.

I suppose it couldn't be worse than the sky-is-falling approach they took on TV's "Switch to Digital!" But my real question, now that some of the holiday tinsel has cleared - did anybody actually get HD radio as a present? Do you even know anyone who has it?

MVC Novermber 2010 update

I was happy to see that She-Hulk made the official roster for Marvel vs Capcom 3 - maybe not as happy if it had been a surprise, as she was another character that had been on the leaked list months ago. I was a little surprised to see Zero on the Capcom side, since he got such a lukewarm reception in Tatsunoko vs Capcom 3 (although not as bad as Volnutt's) even though he was on the leaked list. I am under the impression that people want the plain, vanilla, regular, standard issue Mega Man before any of the other guys from the franchise show up. Certainly, I would understand fan's annoyance if it were one of the other franchises - like if a game had Gouken and Sean in it, but not Ryu, or Nero and Arkham, but not Dante.

The thing that cheesed me the most about the most recently posted roster was not the fact that the inclusion of Spencer from Bionic Commando escaped my notice, but the three little letters next to the newly posted Jill Valentine and Shuma-Gorath.




I'll show you the one for Shuma here.

It is my opinion that having DLC characters in a fighting game splinters the audience, and makes playing online more of a pain in the neck than it needs to be. I have no issue with DLC outfits, since they don't affect the gameplay.

And of course, if you get the crazy special version that includes a one month unlimited subscription to Marvel digital Comics and a fancy art book, they'll include the Jill and Shuma-Gorath DLC when they come out. It's a $70 version, though. (I presume the regular version will be $60, of course.)

I hope that for a $10 premium we can at least get a Jill Valentine with that cute beret that she had in MvC2.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

A quick video- Cubing with restrictions.

I brought the nerdy cube stuff today. It's a cube that's partially superglued together so you can only move two adjacent faces. I've had this for a while, and even though people talk about this particular subset of possible Rubik's cube moves from a mathematical sense, I haven't seen much in the way of discussion of how to solve it or its features. We'll declare the right face (yellow) and the down face (red) the two movable sides. Once both the URF corner and the URB corner are correctly placed, all of the corners are correctly placed. Once the three right face edges UR, RF, and RB are correctly placed and oriented, the remaining edges are all correctly oriented. So, the solution usually is:

1. Solve edge UR.
2. Solve the two corner-edge pairs (URF + RF) and (URB + RB).
3. Orient D corners (they are correctly placed automatically).
4. Permute D edges (the are correctly oriented automatically).

If there are any new-school cubers out there, you might make U and R the movable faces and solve DR first - upside down of what I just said. I originally started with the Nourse method, so I'm a little biased to R and D moves, even though it's a little harder to see what you're doing. Amazingly enough, this bias has overcome everything - even the fact that I'm a lefty who cubes right-handed.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cheese or Twinkies?

I may have a problem with food.

I say this in particular because this morning I was madly searching my office for a cheese stick that I, in fact, had already eaten minutes before and have no recollection of.

Certainly, this is not as serious a problem as anorexia or bulimia, and I don't expect there to be a telethon for cheese amnesia anytime soon. Also, I'm calling dibs on "Cheese Amnesia" as an album title or a song name. It makes me think of how I fondly recall some things from the 80's until I actually see how bad they were.

But, back to the food thing. So I realize that while large portions of the world are undernourished because they don't have the sort of land that's conducive to farming, or don't have the resources to farm on the sort of scale that would actually feed the citizens, in America we tend to have the opposite problem with a similar result. We have so many food choices, and they are wildly stratified by price. What tends to happen is that inexpensive foods are consumed because we feel hungry, but the actual nourishment is a little secondary to price concerns. Who wants to go through the bother of cutting open an avocado - if it's even ripe enough to eat in the first place - if there are some perfectly formed Cheetos in that bag over there? Who wants to make a hummus wrap and take it to lunch if you can get tacos easily in the drive-through? Why would I want to have Lipton Brisk that tastes like instant tea instead of real tea?

Now if it's been shown that we're willing to forgo a lot of things to gain convenience, why hasn't someone made really healthy eating more convenient? Oh yeah - there's no money in it. The most important things that most people could do to improve their heath are quitting smoking, moderate exercise, and eating less. Not less butter, not less red meat, not less soda - just less anything. Figure out how many calories you normally have in a day, and pick a number a little less than that, and see if you're losing weight. Think I'm crazy? Check out Mark Haub's Twinkie Diet.