Looking through my old documents; we had a little scale bug in Spider-Man for a while.
It’s finally official. Here’s the press release.
My favorite part of this is the way there’s no obvious accompanying photo, so sites picking up the news use their favorite Magic card art and hope for the best; depending where you read it, you could expect a movie about flying robots or orcs or steampunkers or who knows what. The Verge is the most literal.
I am not optimistic about the movie itself—it seems there’s a lot more ways to fail than to succeed—but I hope it turns out ok.
Every so often we have meetings at big companies we’re working with. I can’t say I’m totally immune to the change in atmosphere, but it doesn’t bother me too much. The artists, though, always come away all “thank god we’re not working at a place like that!” It’s not just the cubicles—apparently low cubicles are a thing now?—and the giant mazelike buildings, though those don’t help. I’m not actually sure what it is, to be honest.
Perhaps relatedly, I’ve heard complaints that parts of the city that have had these giant tech companies move in have had local shops and restaurants shut down, because their cafeterias (modeled after Google) keep the workers inside instead of sending them into the streets to buy lunch.
That makes me really sad! Eating with your coworkers is on balance a good thing, but ffs the walking and deciding where to go and eating actual quality prepared food is also important! The Google bus haters are throwing rocks through the wrong window, but the cafeteria does nobody any favors.
Obviously if your giant office building is in the suburbs that’s its own problem; go ahead and feed your own nerds.
In Appalachia the country is beautiful and the society is broken.
This article has been making the rounds. Just in time for Justified to come back! Even if that show seems to have run out of homegrown villains and spends less time in Kentucky than it used to. It’s an interesting read, though it is the National Review: stay for the reporting, leave before the policy prescriptions.
The new Zelda is pretty neat! The world map is a trick to make you think it’s just a remake of Link to the Past, but it’s a whole new game.
The big new mechanic—turning into a painting and walking back and forth on the walls—works pretty well. The world is arranged in terraced layers; you’ve got stairs and drops (and chickens) to go up and down, but then the wall walking lets you go around horizontal rings. When things are in discrete layers like that the 3ds’s 3d vision makes the depths things are at a little easier to distinguish.
But of course you can’t step in the same river twice. The thing that really impressed me about A Link to the Past twenty years ago was how interactive its world was, and it’s hard to take that somewhere new without, idk, going full Minecraft.
Use buttons have gotten a bad name lately; check out Robert Yang’s thorough evisceration of Bioshock Infinite. It’s to the point that Graham Smith and Brendan Vance are calling for the old flight simulator style full keyboard games.
But Zelda found a good middle road. It only had one use button, but it was limited in scope: it grabbed the thing in front of you and held on to it until you released the button, and if you needed to push or pull the object after that, you’d move your guy without letting go. Contra Smith and Vance, that feels like the way to get more expressive actions: a small set of buttons that are consistent and combine logically and meaningfully.
Only slightly relatedly, there’s been a big argument as people drew up their 2013 year-end lists about what constitutes a roguelike. It feels to me that Spelunky is to Nethack as Link to the Past is to Ultima; the abecedary of commands is missing, but the focus on—and delight in—interacting with the world (and bizarre edge cases) is absolutely equally present in each. In real-time games, if the world and objects are designed properly, timing, positioning, and pressing buttons in sequence is just as good as picking individual verbs off the keyboard.
So, I finally got around to playing Path of Exile, only about a year late. I think its promise—perhaps made by anxious nerds on its behalf—to be the “true heir to Diablo 2” is kind of a distraction. It’s really its own beast. Not only does it have FFX’s sphere grid to do your leveling up, but instead of picking skills out of a tree you find them in FF7-style gems that you socket into your equipment and level up separately; there are even linked sockets and support gems. It’s a great combination! I’d forgotten how compelling it is to level through a sphere grid.
There’s also no money, as merchants barter for scrolls of identify and the like, and your equipped potions automatically refill as you kill things.
And they do the kinds of fiddly things with skills that I appreciate, like having a sword attack that every time you use it it hits a larger and larger area; of course, by the time you’re smashing entire rooms in a single blow you’ve already smashed half the room, but that’s not the point.
It’s ugly like Diablo 2, though. I’ll give it that. And the movement and combat is just a little janky; if you’re a D2 purist you should probably stick with Torchlight. On the third hand, it’s free.
I was wrong! I got the demo, and Bravely Default works better than I expected. When I first heard about the game and had its title described—“Default” skips a turn, “Brave” lets you consume a skipped turn to act twice—I was not particularly intrigued. I’d been thinking of terms of Xenogears, where you had 1, 2, and 3-point attacks you could mix and match, or bank for future turns, but it did about the same amout of damage each way. Or, alternately, recent SMT games, where one good hit would let either side run the table.
But it’s Final Fantasy in all but name, with jobs, spells and all the rest—check out my Ninja, Swordmaster, Valkyrie(!), and Black Mage—and that makes for a slightly slower-paced game. You can borrow several turns from the future and rush down one enemy, but that won’t end most encounters. Where I really noticed it is with your White Mages; you can bank a few turns early, and then if you need to revive and cure someone on the same turn, or drop a big heal on one guy and a little heal on the whole party, you can do that.
Defaulting also gives you a substantial defense boost. Or, really: if you defend it gives you a free turn to use later, so it’s actually worth doing, particularly in boss battles when you can see big damage coming.
Here’s Raymond Chen on that RTL wonkiness; they’ve got a special test locale for windows that’s Backwards English, so they can actually look at text and see if it’s correct. In our PS3 days we had a version of the game in Pig Latin for the same reason.
Only vaguely relatedly, it took quite a bit of trial and error to get my iPhone back from Korean mode; the Settings menu is not friendly to the illiterate.