Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas means new games, and new players for old games.

I don't think I've quite managed to completely straighten out my living room from all of the Christmas chaos yet. My kids haven't noticed, though. They're too busy being Batman and Bumblebee. The two biggest hits of Christmas so far have been Batman: Arkham Knight, which has been out since the summer, and Transformers:Devastation, which was released in October.

Batman:Arkham Knight is another pitch-perfect Batman game from the team at Rocksteady games, and they even brought Kevin Conroy (Batman) and Mark Hamil (The Joker) back in to do some voice acting after having given them the last game (Arkham Origins) off. It's all of the things that you liked from the previous Arkham games plus a substantial amout of driving the Batmobile. Nightwing, Robin, the Riddler, Catwoman, the Penguin, Two-Face, and a few surprise bad guys show up for the fun.

Transformers:Devastation is strangely like Bayonetta. Not strange because it's Platinum Games at the helm, but strange that the Transformers fit so easily into the formula of a stylish beat-em-up game. There's more playable characters than Bayonetta, there's a lot more weapon modification than Bayonetta, but it's no mistake that my nine-year-old refers to the Focus attack as Witch Time. The focus attack, triggered by dodging out of the way at the last second (exactly how Witch Time is triggered in Bayonetta), allows for a few seconds of moving faster than everything else on the board and dishing out a rather serious beatdown. Some barriers to parts of a level have to be opened like this as well. Of what we've seen, the formula for the game is Giant Robots + Stylish Action = Awesomesauce! The only thing that my younger son hasn't liked about the game so far is that Grimlock is a bit sluggish and you need to repeatedly press the circle button to make him go faster. Bumblebee is his favorite character so far, as he easily outperforms his smaller size.

The other thing that is probably happening now is that a lot of people are playing Splatoon on WiiU for the first time.  While we have made some suggestions before, here's a few reminders.

1. Regular mode is just making sure you have inked more territory than the other team. Use your map (it's on the GamePad!) to find out if there are places that really need ink.

2. In the Ranked mode Splat Zone mode on maps that have two splat zones, have two people cover each one.

3. In the Ranked mode Tower Control, it doesn’t do much good to just run around and paint stuff without a plan.Get the tower, hold the tower, make a path for the tower. Use the dotted line to figure out where the tower is headed. You can’t just run around the tower shooting at it – at some point someone on your team has to get on the tower.

4. If you’re using any of the Nozzlenose weapons in Tower Control, you may find it rather difficult unless you’re extremely accurate. If you’re used to that weapon in regular mode, you may find it easier to use one of the Sloshers for Tower Control.

5. In Rainmaker mode – have the Rainmaker before you push forward through the map, and make sure the person with the Rainmaker is safe. If you have the Rainmaker and no teammates nearby, use the “C’mon” call by pressing up on the D-Pad to call them.

6. In Rainmaker mode – No lounging around! You can only use the weapon for a limited time.

7. It's a team game, play it like one. Nobody cares how many frags you get if your team loses.

Let's be careful out there and play nice, and I hope everybody had a great Christmas.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The stuff is dead! Long live the new old stuff!

I made my semiannual trip to Best Buy the other day as part of Christmas shopping. PS4 controllers were on sale, my older son and I saw the trailer for the new Ratchet & Clank.

We were excited to see it, but we know that that also means that there's another game coming out. It's a game, based on the movie, based on the game.

We do find that kind of funny - the last time we got a game based on a movie based on a game, we got JCVD, Kylie Minogue, and my favorite S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Ming-Na Wen in the video game "Street Fighter:The Movie".

 Maybe if this becomes a more popular trend, we'll finally get a Resident Evil game starring Milla Jovovich.

In other news, it looks like Best Buy is only selling music as impulse purchases now.  When stores like Target and Walmart still have an aisle full of CD's, Best Buy's shelf space for CD's is shrinking. Even worse, the majority of what was there at Best Buy was either 1) specifically Christmas music or 2) albums so popular that they couldn't be ignored.  So, Adele, The Beatles, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Metallica, One Direction, and a dwindling quantity of stuff towards the end of the alphabet. (I was looking for Bjork while I was there, and it was even difficult to find Beyonce or Bon Jovi.)

Barnes & Noble has a big music selection these days, but thanks to all of those hipsters out there that brought vinyl back, that's all they have. Not one CD.  Shelves and shelves of DVD's and Blu-Ray movies, and a big island in the middle full of vinyl.

I know, a bunch of you are probably saying "What about iTunes?", but I'm not entrenched in Apple culture, and I'm not looking to be dependent on it. I like how well iTunes works for me for podcasts, and that's as far as I'm willing to go.

It's a little late this year for me to change plans, but I think that in the future I'm going to have to make my default music buying plan to get something directly from the artist, since it seems you get better choices on what format you want it in that way.

In that vein, check out - it's changed a lot since I've been there last and it's been redecorated in the style of her new album. If you haven't heard her new work, perhaps you should - how does the expression go - get it straight from the horse's mouth?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Street Fighter V - The starting grid is complete (and then some).

The last of the starting 16 Street Fighter V characters have been announced. The new second in command of Shadaloo, F.A.N.G (pronounced like "flan" without the l), appears to be very sneaky and able to keep opponents at a distance.

He's sneaky for being able to move quickly in a snake-like fashion under opponent's attacks. (0:30) He's also very sneaky for using poison projectiles, (0:33,0:36,0:39,0:45), turning into a big flappy bird (0:53), and for not having a fourth period in his name.

His poison attacks come in a few different flavors - both straight and arched projectiles like some of Dhalsim's fireballs, one that stays on the ground, and a cloud that surrounds him that does repeated damage to any opponent who gets too close.

In the last little part of the video (1:15), they also tease the first wave of unlockable/purchasable characters. They are:

  • Alex, who you've only seen in Street Fighter 3 and Tatsunoko vs Capcom. He splits the difference between being a grappler and a rushdown character by combining command throws with shoulder tackles, chops, and a flying grab.
  • Guile, a series regular, who appears in Street Fighter 2 and 4 and some of the versions of Alpha 3 series. He uses projectiles and a powerful somersault kick to keep opponents from coming at him.
  • Balrog, a powerful boxer who started as an unplayable boss in the first version of Street Fighter 2, who became a playable character in the second version of Street Fighter 2. Like Guile, he was also in 4 and some of the Alpha games. He is one of Shadaloo's top ranks - look for a giant statue of him in the background of the video above.
  • Ibuki, everybody's favorite schoolgirl kunoichi, who previously appeared in Street Fighter 3 and 4.
  • Juri, a relatively new fighter in Street Fighter 4 who has elements of taekwondo and strange projectiles that don't always do what you think they're going to do.
  • Urien, Street Fighter 3's most agressive rushdown character who also has large projectiles and a unique anti-projectile barrier. It will be interesting to see how they implement his special moves.

The way that I understand it at the moment is that these characters can be locked by completing challenges in the game, or by direct purchase. They are trying to encourage people that are playing the game on a regular basis to improve their skills, and they will unlock the characters as a bonus of being engaged with the game. It's not supposed to matter whether or not people are playing online against other people - the in-game currency that allows these unlocks can be accumulate offline as well. It will be some time before the new characters become available, since I think that the intent is to get the first sixteen characters correctly balanced before they start adding other characters.

Capcom is still continuing their beta program, so people that preorder the game for PS4 or on Steam will be granted access to early versions of the game, and Capcom will use the match data to try to determine what changes need to be made to balance the game. Due to the nature of how Street Fighter works, it may take some time for all of the possible techniques to be discovered. They are also using the beta to test the netcode, making sure that people are going to be able to play well online.


In other news, Ash vs. Evil Dead has really been fantastic, and the thing that Lucy Lawless did in the last episode (yesterday) was so unexpected and amazing that I can't really hint at what it was and I have to tell you to just go watch it already.

Now if you can't stand horror in your comedy, or comedy in your horror, or women kicking butt and still getting objectified by the protagonist once in a while, or dismembered hands crawling around on their own, or anything to do with the occult, then please don't watch it because I wouldn't want to be responsible for television destroying your moral fiber.

However, if you like Deep Purple or the Amboy Dukes, you like comedy and horror together to the point that you want to make a movie about The Three Stooges coming back as zombies, you know that a balanced weapon loadout includes a chainsaw and a shotgun, and you're well-versed enough in literature to know what's funny about "A Farewell to Arms" and who originally created the Necronomicon, then by all means get right on watching this show.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Problem solving takes practice, and practice takes problem solving.

It's probably been a while since I've talked about practice.

I'm sure part of the problem is that I feel like I haven't been doing enough of it, and the other part of the problem that every time I even say the word to myself I start replaying the classic Steve Porter jam "Press Hop" in my head.

But, let's put that aside for a moment. (Or, I'll wait the four minutes for you to watch the video. Whatevs.)

So, the other day, one of my friends called me up with a sample question from a study on cognitive bias, because they were reading an article in a magazine about the difference between intelligence and common sense and wanted to see if I could correctly answer a question that more than 50% of people asked from really expensive schools got wrong. I was able to come up with the right answer, and the study would suggest that if I were smarter I wouldn't have gotten it right because...

No, that doesn't make sense at all. People that practice certain kinds of problem solving are going to be inherently good at those kinds of problems. The article doesn't even say what the breakdown by discipline was for the people that got it wrong, or if there was any commonality to the students that got it right.

Yes, cognitive bias exists. Anchoring, where the mind tethers to the first piece of information given even if it's faulty, is a bad one - especially when a subject is rushed to make a decision. It's also not difficult to find lots of other different types of cognitive bias, and I would agree that overall being more intelligent doesn't necessarily solve that problem. For certain skills that we don't utilize all the time, but that we think we have a handle on, people fall back on strategies that are easy to retain and are often overly simplistic, often leading to odd biases that don't hold up to rational analysis. However, for a specific type of problem, you are going to find people that practice that skill and won't fall prey to a particular bias. (I would be genuinely surprised if any Algebra teachers missed the problem in the Gizmodo article that I linked to.)

I would even say that problem solving itself takes practice. You're not going to know where the oil goes in a car the first time you open the hood, and you might get slapped the first time you talk to some people, but if you're paying attention and the results are important to you, those are solvable problems. Analyzing word problems in math and becoming better at them is conducive to forming good habits when turning words into equations. Learning what things to look for, and having a plan when you can't initially find something to work from, takes multiple tries at observation, analysis, revision, and trial.

These are all the things that we do when we practice well. We work on a thing, and we try to observe it in some way. Perhaps it's a video camera, or a tape player, or sometimes it's the watchful eye of an instructor. Then, we analyze our observation. After analysis, it's time to make revisions and try again. What did we do well? What needs work? Do I know how to address the things that need work, or do I need to consult outside information?

What I find even more interesting about this is that in general, doing things tends to only make you better at that thing. Want to be better at Pac-Man? Play more Pac-Man. Certainly, you can memorize the pattern from a book, but it won't be much help if you're not really playing the game enough to learn how the joystick responds in certain situations. Want to memorize more of your grocery list? You have to work on it. Make a system, create mnemonic devices if you have to, visualize the list in your head, but do it, and learn, and do it again.

Can you play a bunch of brain games and make yourself smarter? Probably not, and for the reason I just stated. Doing a thing is only going to help you get better at that thing. Now, if the brain game is memorizing a list of 20 things, that might help you with your grocery list problem - or you could just write out your grocery list and play Pac-Man instead.

For some more insight into what you can do with practice, and how looking at something new is different from looking at it the hundredth time, try reading this interview with my favorite French Horn player.