Monday, December 17, 2012

Cubing without even trying to - Part 3 or, No, I don't get the picture.

I am so glad that they have not made a Jackson Pollock picture cube, but perhaps it would have been easier than the Minnie/Daisy picture cube that I encountered a couple of weeks ago. I remember as a child that there was some puzzle billed as "The World's Hardest Jigsaw Puzzle" and it had Pollock's "Convergence" as the subject.

To review the problem that I had with Minnie and Daisy, I need to review a bit of the basic mechanics of the 3x3x3 Rubik's cube. The Rubik's cube, for the sake of our discussion, has twenty-one pieces. There are 12 edge pieces with two stickers each, 8 corner pieces with three stickers each, and the center spindle mechanism with six stickers.

Let's say that we have a particularly difficult picture cube, but you recognize one of the pictures enough to know which nine of the 54 stickers go on one of the faces. Now, if you know what stickers go on one certain face, and can move them all there, then you have one center, four edges, and four corner pieces all on the correct face. If for some reason they aren't in the right place relative to each other, there are only a few ways it can be wrong, and it can be a simple matter to fix if you know what to look for. Taking the location of one corner and the center piece as a starting point, there are 3!*4! ways the remainder of the pieces can be placed, and on a picture cube there can be 4 different orientations of the center piece, so lets say that there are 576 possible permutations of the pieces on the one face. If you can correctly move just one more piece into place, you cut that number to at least 192, and with each successive piece you reduce the number of possibilities further and further. Even if you had to do it completely by trial and error to see what the side pictures are, we're not talking about so many different cases that you couldn't get it done in a few hours. The great part about this is that once that's worked out, you now have one third of the picture for the four adjacent sides put together also. (For those of you that have been away from a math class too long, the exclamation point represents the operation called 'factorial'. n!, or n factorial, is the product of the integers 1,2,...,n-1,n. For example, 3! is 3*2*1=6, and 4! is 4*3*2*1=24.)

Now, if you can't discern which group of nine stickers comprise any face of the cube, the challenge is orders of magnitude more difficult. If you select a particular corner to start with, the only stickers you have eliminated as possible other pieces for that face are the other two stickers on the same corner piece. Considering only corner pieces, you have 1330 possible sets of corners to try to go with the one you start with. Factor in the edge pieces and you have 10,626 possible groups of four edges to try out, not to mention having to try all six centers. Multiplying all that out means that just to get a single face on a hard-to-decipher cube means you would have to try almost 85 million possibilities if you took one corner piece as a starting point. This is far too many to do by trial and error. If you could check one configuration each second, it would take more than 2-1/2 years to check them all.

These previous two scenarios also assume that the cube has not been tampered with. If the stickers have been moved around, then your best bet would be to just consider any possible grouping of 9 stickers out of 54 to see if they formed a picture. Now you're at 531 million or so possibilities to check, just to get one face of the cube figured out.

So, in case I haven't made this clear enough, let me summarize. If you can't figure out any of the pictures on a Rubik's picture cube from a scrambled state, you probably don't have enough free time to sort it out by accident.

Friday, November 23, 2012

But wait - there's games out there!

I'm not quite ready to post the next part of Cubing Without Trying - I got a little distracted by the release of the demo for "DmC". "DmC" is the lastest entry in Capcom's long-running stylish action series "Devil May Cry". The past "Devil May Cry" games star a white-haired half-demon called Dante who tracks down demons to keep them out of the human world with a sword, a couple of pistols, and whatever other weapons he finds along the way. Instead of being a direct sequel or prequel to one of the existing games, it is set in a parallel universe. I let it download when I went to bed Tuesday night, and didn't really get to play it seriously until Wednesday night.

I had heard a lot of negative talk about DmC, since
1) Capcom wasn't doing its latest iteration of the "Devil May Cry" series in-house,
2) the developer, Ninja Theory, was using the Unreal Engine instead of using MT Framework and there was concern that the fast-paced juggling and precise combos of the first four games would be compromised, and
3) Dante's hair was not white this time and he just looks like a stupid cigarette-smoking emo kid now.

I can hardly blame Capcom for farming out "Devil May Cry" to Ninja Theory. Capcom has more different series going at the same time now than they have in quite some time. While "Devil May Cry 4" was a decent game, I could certainly see some things in "Heavenly Sword" that might have made somebody at Capcom take notice, so perhaps they thought it better to let Ninja Theory give them a new take on it. I thought that Capcom had already taken a big risk last time, by having you play a substantial portion of "Devil May Cry 4" as someone other than Dante (you play as Nero up to the game's midpoint), but the Devil Bringer weapon that Nero had made for an interesting addition to the game.  The Devil Bringer could bring enemies to you, or it could allow you to grapple to and propel yourself from distant points. However, this weapon was unique to Nero, and Dante had to find his own way to get around.

In the demo of "DmC", Dante has three different weapon sets. His regular weapon set is the sword Rebellion, with his pistols Ebony and Ivory. Hold the R2 button, and you get a large, heavy battle axe called the Arbiter, and a whip-like doodad that pulls things towards you. In the first level of the demo, there are a couple of platforms you have to pull away from a wall before there's enough room to land on it. Hold the L2 button instead and you get a large, light, fast, scythe called Osiris, and a similar whip-like doodad that pulls you toward enemies or platforms. Right out of the gate, I was comfortable with the combat - the only thing that was even the least bit odd was the lack of a 'lock-on' button, but for the most part the game was adept at targeting what you were looking at. If the game ever opted to target a close enemy behind me when I was shooting at something that I was pointed at in the distance, I didn't notice. Perhaps super-hard-core Devil May Cry fans will complain that their 200 hit combos no longer connect because they made some move 2 frames too slow, and since the whole point of the series is 'stylish action' it completely ruins the game, but I find it unlikely. I have found that somebody, somewhere, always manages to find the move combos that were never evident when the game was made. I was actually very impressed with the demo's look and feel. There were lots of architectural similarities to the other Devil May Cry games - the first few streets you walk through wouldn't be out of place in Devil May Cry 2 or 3. Another thing that I was very impressed with was the dynamic landscape. Buildings shove together to trap you, floors pull away revealing a long drop into nothingness, and a church stretches apart while you're trying to walk through it. The feeling that the city itself was attacking you was both unnerving and exhilarating. There are also hidden enemies (well, they're not that hidden) to defeat and keys and doors to find that add to your level completion percentage.  The doors contain the 'Secret Missions' common to the other Devil May Cry games, but since there was an obvious door, I don't really know how 'secret' they are. I did like that it was very easy to start a Secret Mission again - it doesn't kick you outside if you flunk it. You are exactly where you were when the level finished (all the ones I did were timed, I think) and it asks you to press Select to retry it.

The other level in the demo is a boss battle, which was a crazy caterpillar looking thing hanging by some strange tubes in an ancient underground cavern. (I don't think that's the first time a Devil May Cry boss fits that description.) I guess I hadn't noticed the juvenile F-bomb war that permeates the dialogue in the cut scene that precedes the battle since I didn't have the sound turned all the way up the first time. Well, the game is supposed to be... oh wait, "M" is supposed to stand for "Mature". You get to spend a lot of time in the battle swinging from platform to platform as the boss makes them temporarily (or sometimes permanently) uninhabitable. The close quarters combat with the large boss feels satisfying - smacking its four hands off the platform with the axe to get it to let go is fun. (Just watch out for the puke - it stings a little.)

So, I would say - Yes, it looks a little different. That's not a bad thing. The controls felt very responsive to me, but I would consider myself an enthusiast and not an expert. I stopped caring what color Dante's hair was about a second after I swung the sword in the game the first time. It is not hurt by the Unreal engine in my opinion, as the dynamic levels are a welcome new addition that helps with the immersion in the game. It feels like Devil May Cry, perhaps in a way that I hadn't gotten to do since DMC3. Ninja Theory has done a great job at merging new gameplay ideas with old ones and still feeling faithful to the series. My only actual complaint is that I would rather have the older slightly cheesy double entendre-laden dialogue over a barrage of F-Bombs. (Proof that I'm turning into SuperGeezerCube, perhaps.)

Also, while you're out shopping now, don't forget to check out the Nintendo kiosk at your local retailers.  Most locations have their WiiU displays out now, and you can check out what's up with Nintendo's new machine. When I saw our local one last weekend, there were no playable demos yet, but there were trailers for quite a number of games, and you can see how the Wii U touchscreen controller feels in your hands and how it is to operate.  You can even use the stylus to swipe between games and then select a trailer to play.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Cubing without even trying to - Part 2

Saturday a week ago, I had a lot of time to sit in the car and I presumed that I would have plenty of time to tackle my problem with the two Disney cubes, pictured above with my 25th Anniversary cube. The Disney cube on the right has Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Pluto on it. Each face has a colored background and a differently colored burst on it. It didn't take too long to narrow down which pieces went with which center once I got once face done correctly. It was finished by 10 after 7 that morning, even with other distractions and eating breakfast-like substance in the car. As with most picture cubes, once it is clear what goes where the only thing that makes it different from a standard Rubik's cube is that the orientation of the center piece matters.

The second Disney cube, the one on the left, was more problematic. The six centers had either Daisy's or Minnie's face on them, plus one edge piece had Minnie's face on it. The remainder of the pieces were either pink, light green or sky blue, with either polka dots or flower patterns. I was able to figure out that almost every face had some combination of two colors on it, but it was rarely clear what went where as some pieces were just a bow on the background color with nothing that specifically tied it to an adjacent sticker. I never managed to complete any face, and I don't think I managed to be certain about more than three pieces going together. I abandoned it for Saturday, and looked at it again on Sunday, hoping that perhaps I would be saved by Google Image Search. Sadly most of my searches for a picture of these cubes yielded either the official Disney Rubik's Cube (which is a standard size cube far easier to solve than either of these) and a few of the links led back to the previous Friday's post. I looked at it again a few times subsequently but I had no breakthroughs. Given enough time, I suppose that I could have scanned the stickers and printed them out and treated them like 6 small jigsaw puzzles, which could have corrected for the possibility that some of the stickers had been moved prior to my attempt at solving it, but as the other one had not been tampered with, it was probably not the first thing I should have assumed.

I handed back the cubes on Friday, one solved, one unsolved, with the promise that if someone can tell me what the pictures are, I can get it solved in 10 minutes or so. (I never want to lowball a solve time for a keychain size cube since turning them too hard can result in injury or a broken cube.) In part 3, we'll get into the math of a picture cube when you don't know what the picture is.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Cubing without even trying to.

I got my 25th Anniversary Rubik's Cube fired up again the other day.  One of my kids prompted me to get it going again. I had shelved it for a while because one of the yellow stickers had delaminated, giving the appearance of a white sticker. As the 25th Anniversary cube has no white side - the side that would normally be the white side has silver shiny stickers on it - it was theoretically no barrier to operation, but I robbed a yellow sticker from one of my other out-of-commision cubes so it didn't confuse me.

Its mechanism is better than most of my other cubes, only surpassed by the DaYan, but as I misplaced my DaYan some time ago this will have to suffice. I had it with me tonight when I went to go pick up some pizza at a place I used to go to every Friday, and now only go every three months or so since I have been dedicated to making pizza myself when I can. As the order was already made when I got there, having ordered ahead of time, I headed back to my car rather quickly with no time to stand around twisting the cube. Apparently, some of the other employees noticed me there with the cube anyway. As I am about to start the car, the assistant manager that handed me my pizza comes out to talk to me.  My first thought was that there was some mixup with the pies and I ended up with somebody else's.  My fears quickly subsided when the assistant manager says to me "One of the employees here was just telling me that you're really good with that Rubik's cube..." So, I give him as much demonstration as I can in two-and-a-half minutes. Typically that's one solve, one solve with explanation, and a quick demonstration of  the concept of a move and its inverse.

Once home and distributing pizza, I realize that I had not gone to the bank and it was not yet closed. Forgetting my cube entirely, I go to the bank branch that I would normally go to much earlier in the day. Once there, I am in more of a line that I would normally be. Two or three of the tellers notice that it's me right away and I'm a little surprised that they have zeroed in on me as I do not have a cube on my person. They assure me that someone will be with me right away and I get ushered down to one of the tellers that noticed me. I make my deposit, and I then get handed not one, but two miniature Disney picture cubes. One is black plastic with Mickey, Donald, and Goofy stickers. The other is white plastic with Minnie and Daisy stickers. They're approximately the size of a keychain cube, and of similar manufacture. The bank tellers had been eagerly anticipating my arrival all day. My instructions - they would like to see them solved. No hurry, of course, I can bring them back in a few days. Why me? Because I'm the only person they know that can do it. It's not like they don't know where to find me.

Pictures will follow once the Disney Cubes are solved.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The importance of X, part 2.

After some review and comments from the peanut gallery, it would appear that 1) I already had one game that I did not mention at all with a very non-standard jump button and 2) I picked up a second game with a very non-standard control set (to me) that has the jump button in a very strange place.

The answer to 1) was Katamari Forever. Since jumping (OK, it's called the 'Prince Hop') is a relatively new mechanic in the game, I totally forgot/disregarded/ignored it. I like the mechanic, but I space out sometimes and don't use it. Being able to jump does save you from having to replay boards quite as many times to get all the stuff. Katamari's jump button is R2 - but since most of the game is controlled by the two analog sticks, it would be impractical to map anything important to a face button when the triggers are easier to get to.

The answer to 2) was Mirror's Edge, which I am finally playing (and liking) but it kicks my butt since I've never played a FPS with a controller that wasn't on a Nintendo machine. (Goldeneye 64, the cheesy port of Quake 2 for N64, and Metroid Prime for GameCube.)  Most of my FPS time happened a long time ago (Doom 1-2, Quake 1-3) and was mostly with mouse/keyboard. Believe it or not, I never used a mouse for Doom, and didn't start using a mouse for the first Quake until after I started playing Deathmatch games. Similar to our Katamari situation, all of the movement controls for Mirror's Edge are on the two analog sticks, so the jump and duck buttons are mapped to L1 and L2 by default.

I would have to say that both of these games - Katamari Forever and Mirror's Edge - are different enough from other games that it's easy to treat them separately and not expect the controls to be similar.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

A world without limits.

So it would appear that Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his Tour De France titles and that the UCI is going to abide by the decision of the USADA.

I was a little bummed out at first. After all, with Lance single handedly getting Americans excited for a sport that usually posts worse TV ratings than hockey here, and with a sport that translated well into people buying bicycles and being more active, and to top it all off was a cancer survivor, it was hard to want to accuse the guy of being a cheater. The accusations seemed to channel away from him like the way you see water channel away from the surface of a rain tire in the Michelin commercials.

The more that I learned about it, though, the more I wondered about how somebody could win the Tour seven times in a row under the competitive pressure that there was at the time. Jan Ullrich who won the Tour in 1997 is now recently banned from cycling because of doping. Marco Pantani, who won in 1998, suffered a long downhill slide in his mental state after being disqualified from the Giro d'Italia in 1999 for an irregular blood result and was accused of doping for the rest of his career. Pantani subsequently died in 2004 from a cocaine overdose.

Looking at humanity as a whole, we love competition - it's what makes us go. It's what got America on the moon when we got scared by Sputnik and the Soviet's perceived capability. It's what makes our cars on the road better every year when we get innovations spurred by NASA and NASCAR. It's what makes you check your leaderboard scores on your favorite game, or to see how your football pool is doing. In a way, I try to tap into that competitive urge when I talk to somebody about cubing, since some people see something and say to themselves "I gotta do that". Under the right circumstances, it's a great motivator, and it can spur on the innovations and new ideas that we might not see otherwise. That's not to say that competition is not without its perils. Would we be ready for a world without limits? If we removed all restrictions on cycling, how long would it take for someone to have a stroke on live TV during a race? If we removed restrictor plates from NASCAR, how long would it take for the cost of the accidents to be a deterrent to going to a race?

The thing is, some people need some competition once in a while to make them feel alive, but there's little value in it if it's just going to kill them.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Importance of X (or A, as the case may be.)

Over the course of the summer I played the following action/platform games on PS3 all within a short span of time.

God of War 3 (completed regular difficulty)
Heavenly Sword (completed regular difficulty)
Ratchet and Clank:Tools of Destruction
Devil May Cry 4 (completed regular difficulty)
Ninja Gaiden 2 (completed once, can't recall which difficulty)

I like all of these games, and for different reasons. Ninja Gaiden 2, Devil May Cry, and Bayonetta are a different kind of gameplay from God of War and Heavenly Sword, and Ratchet & Clank is yet another kind of gameplay. The thing that I noticed the most from playing all of these games in the same timespan is that you can't jump in Heavenly Sword, and that Bayonetta and God of War use two different buttons to get into the item menus. The problem with the item menu didn't take too long, but the other thing really got me noticing how ubiquitous the use of the X button to jump with is (or A, if you're playing on XBox/XBox 360.)

I think that I only own a few games that have a jump mechanic where it's mapped somewhere strange. On the first Devil May Cry, they mapped the jump button to triangle which I never got used to. I was so glad that they fixed it in Devil May Cry 2 that I overlooked a lot of the game's other flaws. I wonder if they changed it for the HD remake? On the game "de Blob" for the Wii, they mapped jumping to swinging the Wiimote. In one case, it was workable but I had to think about it a lot. In the other case, I didn't have to think about it that much but it was largely inaccurate for me. I think Onechanbara for Wii has the jump button mapped someplace strange also, but you don't jump in that game enough for it to matter.

In general, I found it nice for the games that I listed at the beginning here that I didn't have to think about jumping. It kept me engaged in the game and not perpetually having to run back and check the controls in the menu. I presume that the same sort of thing happens with FPS games, where people have a certain expectation of a control layout and it's nice not to have to think about it so they can just play the game. With fighting games, I'm used to having to adapt a little for each character, so it's not so bad with different games having different button layouts but I'd be lying if I said I didn't have a preference.

In the event that there isn't a standard, ubiquitous layout, I have to say that I really appreciate the times where there are visual cues or on-screen reminders available, especially for context-specific controls or buttons that see only occasional use. God of War does that fairly often, and I have to say that it's nice to jump back into a game after not having played it for a while and be able to open up a treasure chest right when I walk up to it and not worry that I'm about to accidentally use a magic attack on it by mistake. I just started playing Arkham Asylum in the last week and like the little touches like seeing (R1) right next to the little reticle that shows you what ledge you can grapple up to, or the little reminders in the corner about how to use the explosive gel once you equip it.

I have complained about bad controls before, so before I launch into a tirade about those I would just refer people back to my old post about Suda51 and Killer7.

Familiar controls (or at least intuitive controls) can help make a good game great, and in a lesser game can keep a help player interested long enough to care whether they finish or not.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Math vs. Capcom

So now that I have Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, it still seems... incomplete. It's not that I'm good at the game or anything – I haven't even faced Galactus in single player yet althought I suspect that perhaps my son playing LEGO Batman 2 may have something to do with part of that. It's just knowing that there are two more characters available, and they're characters that were available in Marvel vs Capcom 2. I never found myself using Shuma-Gorath that much in the previous games, but I did use Jill once in a while as a rushdown character and to supply my teammates with health.

Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 is the expanded version of Marvel vs Capcom 3, part of Capcom's 'Vs' series fighting games. Many popular characters from the Street Fighter series are present in the 'Vs' games, along with other characters from their action franchises Devil May Cry, Okami, Mega Man, and Resident Evil. The 'Vs' series games differ from the standard Street Fighter series games in that there are teams of multiple characters, and while each player only directly manipulates one character at a time, they are allowed to call their partners in to do 'assist' moves, or tag out to one of the other characters if needed.

Should I get the two downloadable characters? Well, let's do the math.

The math is a little funny, though. Interpreted purely in terms of the number of characters, it seems crazy that the first 48 characters cost you $40 which is $0.83 each, and the next two characters cost you $5 each. Of course, if you bought the original version of Marvel vs Capcom 3 when it came out, paying $40 to get 12 more characters than what you originally had (which is $3.33 apiece) then the DLC (DownLoadable Content) pricing doesn't seem as far off.

However – let's ignore the original MvC3 for a moment and look at the math in terms of the number of possible teams. In UMvC3, without the two DLC characters, there are 48 characters and three characters on a team. Realistically, it doesn't matter what the order of the characters are – if you have a team with Spiderman, Hulk, and Wolverine, it's the same as if you had picked Wolverine, Spiderman, and then Hulk. As it turns out, for three characters, there are six different ways you could pick the same team. (This will be important in a moment.) So, since the game does not allow repeat characters on the same team, the number of possible teams works out like so:

There are 48 possible characters you could pick first.

There are 47 possible characters you could pick second, because the character you picked first cannot be picked again.

There are 46 possible characters you could pick third, since the first two characters cannot be picked again.

Which gives a preliminary figure of 48 * 47 * 46 = 103,776. However, since a bunch of those teams are repeats of each other, just with a different order of characters, we divide by 6 (See, I said it would be important later...) to get the total number of unique teams. That gives us 103,776 / 6 = 17,296 possible teams.

This is the part where the kid in the back of the room raises his hand and says "Isn't this just C(48,3)?" to which I would remind him that we're not all math majors and maybe it would be nice to show the steps instead of just cramming the problem into a formula straightaway.

So, if we figure in the two downloadable characters, the total number of possible teams increases to 50 * 49 * 48 / 6 = 19,600. That's 13% more teams, with just 4% more characters.

Phooey. I still don't know if it's worth five bucks.

Friday, June 22, 2012

LEGO Batman 2: A few days in, a couple of bugs.

My older son seems to have a reasonable array of heroes unlocked for LEGO Batman 2:DC Super Heroes at this point, plus the 5 extra villains from the villain pack and a few other miscellaneous characters. However, we had a small problem with Green Lantern. Around the Gotham Zoo area, there are some piles of green translucent bricks that are made for the Lanterns to build.  Holding the circle button (PS3 version) is supposed to build the group of bricks into an object, and then the object does whatever it is supposed to do and leave behind a significant number of LEGO studs. However, we here having the problem that the group of bricks would be built and then no action taken. Once the built bricks lay dormant for a moment, they disassemble, and then we were left to try again. It didn't seem to matter if some of the extra options were turned on or not. The only thing that seemed to resolve the issue was exiting to the main PS3 menu and restarting the game.

I had a different problem previously - after I loaded the villain pack the first afternoon, I started my own game but picked 'Load Game' even though I was pretty sure that there wasn't a game on my profile to load.  It appeared to start a new game, but it locked up at the first save point. I played again the next day, and was correctly kicked out of the 'Load Game' screen into the 'New Game' screen the second time and had no problem saving the game.

I don't know if there are more bugs to find, or if this is even the sort of game that will be bothered to be patched. We had problems with the Wii LEGO games locking up periodically, but of course those games didn't get patched.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

It's Batman Day! Part 3

So, my older son had adequate opportunity to play his new copy of LEGO Batman 2:DC Super Heroes today, although without the villain pack installed. His favorite thing so far is the electric suit for Batman.

It was nice that once I logged on and redeemed the code on the receipt and everything installed that the villain pack worked on his profile, so he didn't have to replay everything from earlier in the day.  Oddly, I tried a playthrough and it locked up at the first save spot, so I'll have to see what's up with that later. The Lex Luthor minifig is cool.

I did not expect my older son to also come home with a Dalek minifig from the nearby bookstore.

 The only thing they had to report about the movie earlier in the day was that Mr. Popper's Penguins was better than Zookeeper, the movie they saw last week, and that the funniest thing in the movie was a penguin fart joke. I'm not sure what that says about Jim Carrey.

It's Batman Day! Part 2

At noon SuperMonkeyWife called me from the store to see if I want the $3 warranty. I made the John Casey noise, which I am quickly called out on. It was funny mostly because I was listening to the Nerdist podcast with Zachary Levi at the time. The kids had just gotten out of seeing a summer showing of “Mr. Popper's Penguins”, which I suspect that I will hear nothing about this evening.

It's Batman Day!

For some of you, you may think of today as Juneteenth, or others may just know that today is the new moon. For a lot of you today is just Tuesday. For me, today is Batman day. We picked out shirts last night, although my older son figured out that his long-sleeve LEGO Batman shirt was too itchy to wear, I had to put a LEGO Star Wars shirt on him instead. (Note to self : Wash the LEGO shirts with extra fabric softener.)

I haven't pre-ordered a game in a while – I may have mentioned it before. Since my older son got a pretty good report card, we decided that we would get him the LEGO Batman 2 video game when it came out. I did the actual purchase a couple of weeks ago, so that today I can send him with the receipt to just pick it up. (I called the store just to make sure.) Gamestop opens up at ten here, so we'll see what happens. There is supposed to be a Lex Luthor minifig, and some code for a villain pack.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Yo dawg, I heard you like criticism in your criticism...

So, if criticism of criticism is metacriticism, then if I complain about Metacritic it's metaMetacriticism?

Maybe I should back up  a few steps. I finally got to a point where I picked up a PlayStation 3. I had really been missing Street Fighter, and the few times that I had played Street Fighter IV and Super Street Fighter IV over the last couple of years were just fantastic. To be fair, I was playing against people that were my equal or better - both of the people in question were people that had helped teach me the game back when all of the versions of Street Fighter had a 2 in them, and they had both started playing before there was a 2 in the title. I can't even say that Street Fighter is a game that I play because I'm good at it - it's a game that I play because I like it, and to some degree I have some nostalgia for it because of the people that I learned it from and the time that it was all happening. Unlike my two teachers, I played a lot of the Alpha games that followed, and I even played a little bit of Street Fighter 3 when a home version finally came out for the PS2.

This is the part of the discussion where the guy with a beard and glasses with his arms folded in the back of the room loudly states that clearly I was not serious about fighting games or I would have purchased a Dreamcast. 

I was not usually playing against people, which is not what people who play fighting games typically do, but as most of my other friends had no interest in tackling a game that I had already invested a lot of time into, my matches against people were few and far between once everybody had regular jobs. I was grateful that at least one of my friends took the time to learn at least one character from me, and I am happy that my older son is now learning a little bit of the game with more than a little help from Tatsunoko vs Capcom.

The day before we went to go pick up a PS3, we checked Metacritic for review scores on a few games, including Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 (which I found a copy of at ToysRUs for $9.98!), Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 and SSFIV:AE just for the heck of it even though I was sure that I was going to pick up SSFIV:AE. It drove me nuts every time I saw a user review of 0 for those games. I think that I understand why people are mad, but I don't think that I understand why people are surprised. I also thought that giving a game a review score of '0' was more than a bit insincere. While I understand that there is no way that we can give a completely impartial review because our perception is largely based on experience, giving any of those games a '0' is not being intellectually honest about what a bad game really is.  Maybe some people need to go back and play the Super Nintendo version of Rise of the Robots or perhaps the side-scrolling 'Tick' game.

I could understand not liking Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 as much as Ninja Gaiden Sigma, but neither of the two games are so bad as to warrant a zero. The Ninja Gaiden Sigma games are slightly different PS3 ports of the XBox versions. Ever since the very first Ninja Gaiden, people had complained about the camera and the difficulty. Ninja Gaiden and Ninja Gaiden Black for XBox got some low user reviews because of the camera and the fact that it was too hard, so it was all the more head-scratching for Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 to get low user review scores because it was too easy. (I'll take a wild guess and say that those aren't the same people giving out zeros in those two cases, but if they are they should have their medications adjusted. Those games have quite a wide range of difficulty available.) As an extra question for those of you reading this, what third person action game has the best camera (or at least a good, recommendable one)?

As for Capcom and their proclivity for sequels, it should come as no surprise to anyone. In the early 90's, when SNES cartridges often went for $60 or more new, Capcom put out new versions of Street Fighter II every year for four years in a row. Believe me, I know. Home versions of the Alpha series for the Playstation followed quickly after that, followed by the EX games, Street Fighter 3 on Dreamcast, Rival Schools, and the Marvel Vs. games. If you check carefully, there have been releases or re-releases of Street Fighter games for either arcades or home platforms almost every year from 1987 to the present.

Getting mad at Capcom for releasing a lot of sequels and reissues is like getting mad at the sky for being blue. Still, people had to bomb Metacritic's website with low user review scores for Super and Arcade Edition because they felt burned by paying $60 or more on day one of Street Fighter IV back in 2009 instead of being glad that they got to play it at all, and not viewing their extra years of playing the game as having value.

So is the problem with Metacritic, or is the problem with human nature? If I look at ten review scores, and it's all 6's, 7's and 8's, then I could feel pretty good about  the information.  If a game gets 3 0's and 7 10's, then I don't believe anybody.  The two groups could average out the same, but the group with the 0's in it has a much larger standard deviation. In a judging situation with a small, fixed number of judges you just throw out the highest and the lowest score . You a real sense of what the real consensus is, and quickly lessen the possible effects of favoritism. It's a quick way to reduce the standard deviation of a data set.  There are ususally too many user scores on these games for a solution like that to work, though.  Maybe I could get Metacritic to sort their reviews in order of increasing standard deviation, so I could read the reviews that were statistically consistent first.

As a side note, I should mention that due to his time with TvC my older son was a lot more interested in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3 than Street Fighter IV, but I chose SFIV:AE ($17) and a gamepad ($20) instead of getting UMvC3 ($40) so that we could both play.  After a little more paying attention to the toggle switch on the back, I was pretty happy about the MadCatz Street Fighter x Tekken gamepad.  The only problem I had was not being able to negotiate the menu screen as player 2, but that may be the game. It's a little smaller than the SFIV MadCatz gamepads in overall size, but the buttons are the same size so I found it pretty easy to get around. There's a nice feel to the buttons, and I have had no problem with the D-pad. I'm a little shaky on double 360's, but I'm pretty sure that's me and not the controller. Now all I have to do is start playing as characters that are better than Dan next time I play online.

As a second side note, this would appear to be my 100th blog post here on blogger, so here's to hoping it doesn't take me as long to get to 200.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Anybody can 'take' a preorder...

The trick is, to paraphrase from Jerry Seinfeld, is to deliver on the preorders. I was at my local Gamestop the other day, and asked them what the window was for preordering LEGO Batman 2. I was somewhat surprised that the window was from now until the day before the game's release on June 19, but it's been a while since I preordered anything. Off the top of my head, I'm going to say that the last time I preordered a game it was Tekken 4 and even though it was a total nightmare and shipped late because of some dockworker's strike someplace I still got my T-Shirt as a preorder bonus.

I suppose LEGO Batman 2 is not the sort of game that is going to sell completely out on the first day, but one of the preorder bonuses is a Lex Luthor minifig. I assume that the sort of people that are still willing to play the LEGO videogames are LEGO nuts like my older child, and the prospect of getting an actual LEGO figure along with the game is pretty awesome to them. My concern is that the number of preorders and what the store may receive in terms of promotional items won't necessarily match up, and some of the people that preorder will get shortchanged. I base this on the fact that there isn't quite enough time to react if there is increased demand in the week right before the game is released.  Of course, the game is probably out the door a little early so that the retailer already has it hand, and they will probably know if too many orders stack up at the last minute and start trying to get copies from stores that had less demand for that particular title. But, in my mind, the concept of a preorder is exactly what the name implies - people put money down to reserve a copy so that a retailer knows how many copies to bring in from the vendor once the game is available, and that necessarily involves cutting off that preorder window at least a week before the game is out.  If you didn't preorder, you would genuinely risk not getting a copy until the store got more copies in.  Back when games shipped on cartridges, perhaps that was probably a more important consideration than it is now, but since we're still getting physical copies (for now) it's not like the shipping part of it is going to be any different.

There are parts of the preorder game that are radically different now, of course.  If you have an XBox360 or a PS3, depending on who you preorder from you can get either five extra villain characters (Bizzaro, Captain Cold, Black Adam, Black Manta, and Gorilla Grodd from Gamestop/EB) or five extra hero characters (Nightwing, Shazam, Katana, Zatanna, and Damian Wayne from Best Buy). They just send you an email code for you to download, but of of course you couldn't have it both ways for a reasonable price. There's no way to know if those characters would be available later as DLC, and none of these characters would be available for the Wii at all since the Wii still doesn't have any way to do DLC. Why should I care about extra LEGO characters on the Wii version? Because Wii owners are part of the core LEGO audience, that's why.  How do I know this?

Because LEGO licensed an official Wii remote.

So I ended up reading Kotaku later, and I got even more cranky about the whole preorder thing by reading an article that suggested that we stop preordering altogether.  I wasn't ready to go that far, but they do have some good points.  I'd just like to get some reasonableness back to the situation - although I hear that's an unreasonable position these days.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

A little weekend cubing, some gaming nonsense, plus Bonus Taco Content!

Well, I was quite pleased with my cubing over the weekend - I started a little tiny bit early because the band was playing a local 80's night and I did a couple of table solves for listeners between sets.  The downside of the cube solves at a loud musical establishment is that it might as well be mime. It's so loud in there that everything has to be done with facial expressions or hand gestures.  Add to that the fact that I'm dressed a little like a guy that should be playing turntables circa 1988, and it's quite surreal.

I got to do a little more cubing on Saturday at the local Surfers for Autism event - it's both a way for me to keep the kids around us in line occupied, and a a way for me to break the ice with the vendors there and various other people I haven't talked to before. I used to worry about dropping a cube in the sand, but I take one that has springy enough action that a few grains of sand in the mechanism doesn't matter that much. A couple of the high-functioning kids that I hadn't talked to before were very interested in the cube and talked to me about it in line, and when we weren't in line I gave demonstrations to a few of the vendors.  I also got to demonstrate to one of the volunteer groups that were working with my younger son, since yesterday was pretty chilly out and #2 son needed long breaks to catch his breath.

I picked up a few games recently, one of which was Hulk:Ultimate Destruction. I was hoping that it would be the perfect game for #2 son since he seems to hate the structure of some games so I presumed he needed something more open-world. He's the one that figured out how to control the chicken in The Legend of Zelda:Twilight Princess because he delights in goofing around in the open areas more than doing the dungeons. (I was also thinking about the Toy Story 3 game for Wii but the PS2 hulk game was only $9.) The down side of the Hulk game is that even if you're just wandering around the city, learning the streets, you will still get shot at.  I didn't remember that happening in Grand Theft Auto 3 until after you started doing bad stuff.  I guess walking around while green is enough to get you shot at.

Well, I promised bonus taco content, so here it is.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

E aho la'ula!

Wider is better?  Well that's what that old Pontiac commercial wanted us to think, anyway.

Vizio now has available a 21x9 format television, in an attempt to catch up to the ever-widening format of the movie theater (which ironically keeps widening in an attempt to differentiate itself from television).

TV started out roughly the same aspect ratio as the movies at the beginning. TV was roughly 4x3 (a ratio of 1.33) and the movies were 1.37, just a touch wider. Most television shows from the beginning of black and white until sometime during the 5th season of the X-Files are all the 1.33 ratio. Some TV shows in the last 10 years or so are in a 16x9 format (a ratio of approximately 1.78 ). Movies over the years have utilized quite a number of different aspect ratios, as different film companies and equipment manufacturers sought to differentiate themselves. The ones most commonly encountered at the movies would be 1.85, 2.35, and 2.39. (If you don't watch any movies before 1970 you can skip 2.35.) As far as your DVDs and Blu-Ray discs go, just check the back cover where it has the info about the languages and the rating and the surround sound and you'll usually find the ratio listed.

So, let's perform some basic calculations to quantify exactly how crazy it is to watch video of various formats on various screens. Let's start with an old-fashioned 4x3 TV program on a 21x9 screen. This one's pretty easy - a 4x3 ratio is the same as 12x9, so the 4x3 program would cover 12/21 of the screen - about 57%. Next a 16x9 picture on a 21x9 screen - again, pretty easy - it's 16/21 or 76% of the screen area. Cinemascope (the current after 1970 variety), with a ratio of 2.39 is a touch too wide for 21x9, so with only a tiny bit of letterboxing , it fills almost 98% of the screen. If we do the same sorts of calculations for a 4x3 TV, we get 100% (of course) for 4x3 programming, 75% for 16x9, and around 56% for Cinemascope, somewhat the opposite of the 21x9 scenario. Running the numbers a third time for a regular 16x9 widescreen TV, you get 75% screen coverage with 4x3 footage, 100% (another of course) for 16x9 programming, and 74% screen coverage for Cinemascope.

It would seem that if you watch a variety of formats, that a 16x9 TV is the sweet spot where you can still get a lot of screen coverage, and that a 21x9 TV would only be advantageous if superwide movies were all you had. I'm sure the hardcore cinephiles that really want this 21x9 screen don't have to worry about watching too many standard old-school format TV shows, but I think the rest of us are not much worse off sticking with regular 4x3 TV's if they still have them (except in one area, which I'll have to save for next time). When it's time to get a new TV, I hope that a 16x9 is still the sweet spot and we haven't all been coerced into heading into ultrawidescreen land.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Cubes from the holidays Part 3

This is the last of the cubes that I got during the holidays, the V-Cube 7 Illusion. Before I edited it, it was a boring 6 minute video because I kept talking while the camera was rolling.  After I edited it, it's down under three minutes and I hope that my sense of humor is still intact and I didn't give away too much about how to solve it.

The background music is a silly remix of some cover song my band is working on - it was preferable to listening to the camera's slightly noisy autofocus.

I really am excited about the V-Cube in general now. Since its invention, it has respawned interest in large cubing, and interest in making improvements to the cube mechanisms themselves. I am not particularly speedy at large cubes, but I do enjoy them.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Cubes from the holidays Part 2

Here's the second part in my series on improvements on the basic Rubik's Cube.

Oddly, the cube shown in the preview thumbnail is my Zontik, which is not an improvement over a regular Rubik's Cube unless you're strictly basing your assessment on mass.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Cubes from the holidays...

Although I don't edit it as much, this will be one of those times where it might be easier to show something instead of explaining it. If you're not familiar with Eastsheen (or perhaps East Sheen, hard to say...) they're a company in Taiwan that makes toys in the same vein as the Rubik's Cube.
I got this as a gift over the holidays, but as it's a 2x2x2, it's inherently difficult to show off since it seems simple.