Monday, May 12th 2008

Capcom’s Guide to Pissing On A Franchise
posted @ 3:33 am in [ Games ]

I just put a game away in disgust, and I wasn’t expecting to do that with this game.

We had Okami for the Wii sent to us from Gamefly, and my busy schedule has been keeping my hot little hands from playing it for the past couple of weeks. Little did I know I’d give up on it before the tutorial section was finished.

As with the first Okami, the graphics are splendid, and the story is a charming blend of Japanese legend and mysticism. You play Amaterasu, wolf god, master of the brush. The idea is you paint on the screen to mend, break, etc. I thought the Wii’s game controls would make this much easier than with the PS2.

I am sad and disappointed. I was wrong.

Unfortunately the game designers thought that because of the Wii’s game controls, they would be able to add an element of precision – or, more to the point, demand precision from the player. I had an inkling I was in trouble when at one point in the tutorial, Amaterasu fell asleep as I tried to draw a perfectly straight horizontal line through a gate that had locked me in a room.

The final stopping point came at a point in the game when Amaterasu needs to “help” a “mighty” warrior train by slashing lines through two training dummies and a boulder. And by “mighty” warrior I mean “needs a sun god to fetch a crock of sake so he can get wasted enough to finish menial tasks.” This sounds easy until you realize that each of these items that need slashing is kind of a realtime event, and if you don’t hit the brush button fast enough, you won’t catch the outline of where you need to stroke. If you do not brush over the stroke perfectly, and I do mean with absolute precision, you are sent back to the beginning of the meaningless exercise whereupon you are treated to the same three lines of non-skippable dialog and take forever to complete because they are tediously spelled out in Okami fashion.

By the tenth time around I decided it was better to shelve the game for later (read: when Sam is awake and I can exclaim “can you believe this shit?”)

I’m not exactly sure where in Capcom’s game testing they decided that demanding precision out of this was a good idea. Drawing a straight line with a pencil on a piece of paper is already difficult, but when you switch that dynamic to where you’re waving around a stick in the air, it becomes impossible. Having to try the same tedious motion over and over again sucked the fun out of what was a very nice game.

I can’t quite express how horribly disappointed I am. I was very much looking forward to playing this game, and to see something so elegant and different botched up so badly leaves me quite speechless.

I can only hope that this is Capcom’s first try with porting Okami to the Wii, and that they sometime in the future release another version that isn’t quite as trying on my nerves.

Monday, May 5th 2008

I have been inspired!
posted @ 7:10 pm in [ Cooking ]

Last night we got back from BarCampSD3 pretty tired and not willing to do much, and that included foraging for food. Heck with it, I decided, I’m going to take the initiative and order a pizza. Unfortunately, my dead brain cells thought a chicken bacon ranch pizza from Papa Johns would be a good idea. Oof. Even Sam, the man who got excited at the idea of the Carls Junior double pastrami burger, felt quite ooky after that meal choice.

So today has been all about yinging that yang from last night. I didn’t even want breakfast, and lunch was very light. But what about dinner?

Taking some cues from @rocknrollgeek’s talk at BarCampSD3 about sandwiches, and a few hints and tips from Hungry Girl, I made a rockin’ sandwich wrap tonight.

  • 2 Morningstar Farms chik’n strips
  • light sprinkle of mozzarella-flavored veggie shreds
  • 2 Tbsp Wholly Guacamole
  • 2 tsp spicy mustard
  • some shredded mixed cabbage and carrots from a bag
  • thinly sliced cucumber
  • chopped tomato
  • 1 low-fat, low-calorie whole wheat tortilla
Cook 2 chik’n strips for about 1 minute in the microwave. Remove, top with veggie cheese, return for 15 seconds. On a separate plate, cook tortilla in microwave for 10 seconds (to make it pliable). Take out of microwave, spread on guac and mustard. Arrange chik’n strips. top with veggies. Wrap that bastard. NOM.

I served that up with a few organic oven fries, which were enhanced with some creole seasoning and ketchup. Overall, I kept my caloric intake under 500 calories, and less than 10 grams of fat. A total turnaround from last night, and it tasted a lot better.


I know there are those of you who are skeptical about vegetarian replacements. The thing to keep in mind about these products is that while they’re getting closer to their fully bad-for-you counterparts, they don’t quite taste exactly like them. However, they do stand on their own in the flavor department, and if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief and open your mind, they can be quite surprising.

Monday, May 5th 2008

The obligatory…
posted @ 7:23 am in [ Tech ]

I found an article giving a short history of Japan’s home tech evolution and how it differs with ours. It’s a fascinating article, and it is giving me a remarkable sense of perspective about my time with Sony back in the early 90s.

Back then, I was the webmaster for the Sony ERA group – Entertainment Robot America. It was the department that marketed the AIBO for the United States. What made the marketing bit so difficult is that all AIBO-related products were conceived in Japan, a much different market than the United States.

In Japan, the brains behind AIBO had a hard time understanding the community in the United States that had formed that loved to hack AIBO. We had an SDK probably only because we had one employee that acted as a technical liaison between the United States and Japan. But it became very messy when one AIBO hacker started releasing software that Americans wanted before Sony could get around to it – software that allowed the user to control AIBO from a computer, and see what it could see through its camera.

It makes sense now why we had to fight Japan on so many issues – while we had no problem conceptualizing things like controlling AIBO from a computer, they were probably left scratching their heads about why anyone would want to do that.

In the end, the death knell for AIBO wasn’t just that divide, but also that the majority of Americans didn’t “get” robots (there was also our very small budget, and it always surprises me when I meet people who don’t know that such an advanced robot was available for purchase). When I was roped into a sales event, the big question was “why don’t I just buy a dog?” (the answer I wanted to proffer was “because a robot doesn’t have vet bills, or need food, or poop on your floor – you dolt”), or “will it fetch a beer for me?” There was a small hardcore community who understood the product, and were beyond happy to have something like that to hack.

In Japan, the average consumer didn’t have the hacker mentality, but for many people there who live in very small apartments, a dog is not practical. This is also the homeland of the Tamagotchi – so the idea of virtual pets was already seeded and blooming. Add on a high cost of living, where younger people live with their parents for a much longer period of time, and you have a larger population with much more disposable income. So while people in America were confused with the $1500 price tag, kids in Japan were excited over owning a little robot pet.

The final axe came after 9/11, when the economy dived, particularly the tech sector. Our target demographic was out of work, and very shortly so was I. I keep getting pieces of the puzzle of what exactly happened during that time period, and the historical and cultural backgrounds that fed into that frenzy. I also keep wishing that we had hung on somehow, because I think if AIBO were released today it would be much more popular than it had been back then…

Well, I do still have three AIBOs sitting around here…

Saturday, May 3rd 2008

Can I have a hobby, please?
posted @ 1:01 pm in [ BarCampSD3 ]

Nothing like a convention such as this to make one feel a tad boring. The last discussion I was in was headed up by a guy who has been in love with geotracking and satellite imagery since he was four. He now does geoimagery for mostly disaster surveillance. Crazy stuff here. The talk before that was a guy who likes to spend most of his time in the forests of Southern California, and wanted to talk about how mobile technology can help people get more in touch with the natural side of life.

What really struck me was a man who asked the forest dweller, “Why would you want to do that, just live your life in the forest?” Well, why not? I’m fascinated by people who aren’t absolutely vapor locked by the sheer vastness of choice we have in our lives. We can do anything we want. Why not try to live for longer and longer stretches of time in the forest? Why not try to apply our personal hobbies and interests to making lives better? We’re privileged to be able to be mostly concerned with not being bored.

Gotta go – time for the WEP hacking talk.

Friday, May 2nd 2008

Things I’ve learned so far
posted @ 7:23 am in [ Tech ]

I really need to keep an eye on the comments for this blog. A poor soul wrote a lengthy and thoughtful comment awhile back and I didn’t catch it until today. Many things catching up with me.

Including, unfortunately, my laptop.

I’m attending BarCampSD this weekend, and I feel like I’m going to a dance in a shoddy old dress my mom tried to mend with safety pins. My laptop is a very old iBook G4. It still works, sure, but the safety pins are showing.

Horde of stickers notwithstanding, opening and running applications has become very slow, almost embarrassingly so. I upgraded the memory to 1.2 GB during the first six months of ownership (and I think that’s the max I can stuff in here), but I think the processor might be getting the works down. Maybe I should lay a bit more story out.

About three years ago, I started working for DreamHost. I was more comfortable in Linux than in most environments, but I had a Windows machine at home because doing stuff like synching my Creative MP3 player, at the time, probably would have involved reading extensive documentation and lots of hackery on my part. I don’t mind doing that sort of thing at work, or perhaps if I feel like doing that sort of thing as a hobby, but I have nightmares about needing to do a quick computer operation before heading off to work only to have the entire thing explode. Three years ago, Linux was quite not as polished as it is now. So, lovely for a server environment, not so much for quick home computing.

At the time, I didn’t like the idea of Apple computers either. Back in 1997, I had done some intranet work for a big pharmaceutical company in Illinois. They were all Apple-based computers, but were rapidly moving to PC because at the time, Apple was being headed up by someone who was not Steve Jobs, and things were imploding for them rapidly. I had to work on a Mac, and I hated it. The OS was cute, but it crashed several times a day because I had the audacity to run PC applications that had been kludged to run on a Mac OS. When your tool gets in the way of getting work done that badly, it gives you a serious complex against the machine.

Fast forward many years. I get the job at DreamHost, and I boggle that so many people who I consider to be competent admins are actually using Mac OSX. Ok, I’d heard from other people in my field that things were different, that Jobs had come back and shown everyone the light. However, I had done some site testing on an old Mac during my ICANN days (I had that colorful fishbowl thing sitting on my desk), but I hadn’t been terribly impressed. Then again, I hadn’t played with it that much, my own internal prejudices got in the way.

Then, finally, my desktop Windows system at home died. For a normal person, this isn’t a disaster. For me, I recreated a scene from E.R., screaming as I tried to resuscitate the dead metal. My job includes having to do oncalls from home, constantly monitoring the health of many many machines. Without a computer, well, it’s like I’ve lost a limb.

Thankfully, one of my co-workers had bought a brand new laptop and loaned me his old one – an old silver Powerbook. However, at the time, it was probably performing at the level my iBook is at now. He loaned it to me one weekend when I needed it for oncall.

One weekend convinced me. I suddenly knew why so many people tolerated Steve Jobs being a great big asshole. The guy is a freaking genius. An evil genius, maybe, but wow. What an OS! So sleek and sexy! And I can get to a damn terminal without downloading a clunky application!

So I bought my beloved iBook – at a cost brand new that I don’t think Mac laptops will ever see again in those trendy Apple stores.

I kept telling my mom about it – the woman who a short time ago was thrilled about having installed an application by herself on a PC for the first time. Finally last year she switched, and I think she’s an even bigger fangirl than I am.

Last week, another co-worker of mine made the switch. He was very surprising because he hated Mac even more than I did three years ago. Then one day he tells me he has a new Macbook, and I went over to his office to point and laugh. As it turns out, he had been surprised by the changes too.

Ok, this post was going to be a bit of a reminisce about the times my laptop and I have spent together, but it’s turned into something else. Who am I to argue with whatever comes out of my caffeine-deprived skull at this hour of the morning?

So, the question remains – why not buy a new laptop? Right now I have the cash to just go buy whatever Macbook I want but…that money is reserved. I’ve got a pretty big party in Las Vegas in August, and I think my fiance would kill me immediately as I stepped in the door. Hm. Macbook or wedding…