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Monthly Archives: January 2009

Complete with violently unexpected twists and mind-binding conundrums, the new season of Battlestar Galactica is off to an impressive start. The new episode, Sometimes a Great Notion continues where the show left off during the writer’s strike last year. Warning, this article contains spoilers, so head on over to Hulu and watch it.

The strangest part of the new episode is the evidence that Starbuck has visited earth before and died there. Kara first finds her own ship’s emergency transponder, then a piece of scrap metal carrying her ship’s wing designation, culminating in her discovery of the flight module, containing one stinky decomposing Kara, complete with dog tags and her ring.
Now there’s only so many possible resolutions for such a contradiction, and most can be grouped into one of the following explanations:
1. Time travel
2. Cloning
3. Starbuck is a Cylon
4. Starbuck is not human or Cylon
I’ll be impressed if the real answer is not among these (knowing BSG, it likely isn’t). But if it is, my money’s on number 2. We know she’s prophesized as the angel of death, something she is quick to bring up while freaking out but there has already been at least one explanation for why such a prophesy was foretold.
And keeping faithful to BSG’s completely unexpected and totally jarring gunplay, Dee kills herself after a seemingly joyous date with her ex-husband. From a literary perspective this is golden: the viewer is put into a very positive mindset, observing the rekindling of their once troubled love (further amplified by the contrast to the new discovery of a charred and desolate Earth). Lee and Dee (whoa, a rhyme) part ways and Dee heads in to her quarters. Looking very content and love-drunk, she has a brief conversation with Gaeda before he leaves. She carefully places her ring on a hook with some of her other personal effects, then pulls her gun and shoots herself in the head. I didn’t think BSG could pull off the shock gun trick again but the circumstances were such that it played excellently.
Although hardly remarkable when first seen, it becomes apparent that the earlier scene in which Dee finds the jacks in the dirt on Earth might have some relevance to her decision to blow her brains out. Throughout the episode some of the cylons have flashbacks of former lives on Earth when it’s armageddon occurred which opens many questions about how they remember it and how they got from point A (Earth in a Cylon society, apparently 2000 years before the events of BSG) to point B (the Colonies, thinking they were human and having no memory of those years). Dee’s encounter with the jacks may have inspired a similar flashback which either instilled just enough melancholy or just enough knowledge for her to say fuck this shit. We won’t know until we see the next one. I can’t wait.

The ODE documentation is quite lacking. Since it’s a wiki I’ll probably help to improve it as I use it but for anyone who wants to better understand ODE’s Plane geometry, here you go:

The plane geometry is, well, a plane. But it’s not really, it’s actually a half-space, which means that stuff on the “solid” side of the plane is ejected out violently toward the “empty” side. To specify a plane you use the basic plane formula:
Ax + By + Cz = D
If you’ve had a math class that covered it, great, I bet you know how this works. For those that haven’t, (A,B,C) is the normal vector (or unit vector) of the plane, and D is the distance from the origin along that normal. Now, the open side of the plane is on the positive (larger) side of the normal, ie the side of the plane that the normal would point to if it was, in fact, an actual arrow.
To illustrate this point, here are some axis-aligned planes and an explanation of which side is open and which is closed:
Plane (1, 0, 0, 0) is aligned to the X axis, with positive X values being in the open side. The plane (-1, 0, 0, 0) is also aligned to the X axis, but conversely the negative X values are in the open side of the half space.
Likewise, (0, 0, 1, 0) is aligned Z, with the open side on the positive side. To have the other half of the plane open, it is (0, 0, -1, 0).
The opposite portion of the half space of any given plane can be defined as the opposite of it’s formula, for instance both of the following planes are on the same line but specify the opposite portion of the plane as the open space: (123, 456, -789, 10) and (-123, -456, 789, -10) (although ODE won’t like these as the vector (A,B,C) should be normalized to a length of 1– just illustrating the point).
Sure, most of this is pretty straightforward but the documentation is completely lacking in the fundamental information, hardly making a mention of the slightly deceptive nature of it’s name (it’s called Plane but it’s actually a half-space). Maybe this will help the next maths-deficient ODE user to not waste time playing with planes to understand their construction and behavior. Unless you still want to. It can be fun.

So the new semester is underway and although I couldn’t get the math class I needed (damn my procrastination!) I did get a chance to work on some of the liberal studies requirements for my major. I’m taking an introductory philosophy class toward that end, and already I’ve learned more about philosophy than I thought I knew before. Which is a funny way of putting it but it describes it well.

We’ve started with Plato’s Apology– now previously I’ve not studied any more about Socrates than was necessary to complete high school but from this one dialogue I’ve found out that I’ve been missing a lot of keen insights into understanding ethics and virtues. If you are not familiar (don’t feel bad!), I’ve summarized the first half or so of it. I’ve added a couple comments which I’ve colored blue, so those who are already familiar with the work can skip past the summaries.

In Apology Socrates is defending himself against two charges brought by his enemies, old and new. The first group hates Socrates because they were at the blunt end of his philosophical wisdom detector (that is, his mind). Socrates explained that Chaeraphon had approached the oracle of Delphi and asked her whether there was any man wiser than Socrates. The oracle replied that there was no man wiser. Chaeraphon returned the news to Socrates.

Socrates was very puzzled by this, knowing that he was not wise he was curious about why Delphi had declared this. So Socrates decided to find the meaning of the god’s words by seeing for himself the wisdom of a respected Athenian, a wiser man than himself. He first selected a politician for examination who was reputed to be a wise and virtuous man. Socrates’ discussion with this man quickly lead him to the conclusion that his reputation was false. Socrates felt it his duty to show the man that his wisdom was founded upon the politician’s self-image, and he quickly made an enemy of him.

Still searching for a wiser man, Socrates then talked to one politican after the other but could find no man who’s “wisdom” was true. He then talked to poets of all sorts. He asked them questions about the meaning and significance of their verses. Although the poets acclaimed their own work beautifully, none of them could tell him the messages behind their most popular works. He concluded that the poets acted more on inspiration than deep thoughtfulness. He continued, talking to artisans, orators and many of other professions but still could not find a single man whose wisdom was true.

The second class of his accusers, led by Meletus, said that Socrates was a deceiver of youth and that he did not follow the religion of the State (Greece, so the Greek gods which I’m sure you are aware of).

Socrates questioned Meletus directly asking him firstly who was a man worthy of improving the youth of Athens. Meletus replied that the laws were their improver. Socrates then asked who would know the law to which he replied that the jury presently in the court knew the laws. Of course Meletus replied affirmatively and Socrates had him confirm that the jury was in fact capable of improving the youth of Athens. Socrates then had him confirm that the senators were capable of improving the youth. Finally he said surely the assemblymen must corrupt the youth then? And Meletus said no, the assemblymen also improve their youth. Socrates then stated that, according to Meletus, everyone improves the youth of Athens– except Socrates of course.

Socrates handling of the first charge is impeccable, certainly worthy of modern day practice of law, despite his admitted lack of experience in the field. In this part he showed that Meletus was not concerned with the guilt nor innocence of Socrates’, but merely that he is punished for his personal vengeance (as Meletus was at the sharp end of a wisdom assessment by one of Socrates’ followers). The fact (confirmed by Meletus himself) was that in his eyes, Socrates was incapable of improving youth merely because of his identity.

Towards the second charge, Socrates asked whether Meletus was implying that he worshipped different gods or was an atheist. Meletus confirmed it was the latter. He then asked Meletus whether a person can believe in divine actions without believing in gods. Meletus replied negatively, saying that no, a man who believes in divine actions must believe in gods. Socrates then pointed out the differences between Meletus’ testimony and the indictment which he swore by as his charges against Socrates, in which he says under oath that Socrates taught and believed in divine activites.

Once again, Socrates has nailed down another charge in a way that would probably result in a charge of perjury against Meletus and a quick exoneration of the second set of charges against Socrates in the modern legal system of the US. He shows his excellent reasoning skills which also seem to resonate the falsehood of the charge of his deception too, as he does no deceiving of any kind, presenting only the contradictions of his accusers.

I won’t cover the whole story as it is rather lengthy and Socrates points are many. In fact, I doubt I could express his arguments eloquently in my crudely insufficient hardly-philosophical way but it’s a story that by the end had made me regret not investigating the orations recorded by Plato and subsequently Plato’s student Aristotle. I can tell you that Socrates is found guilty, but the most amazing part of the story is the punishment which Socrates himself proposes to the court and Socrates final speech after the proceedings were finished. (in the legal system of ancient Greece both the offense and defense parties would propose punishment which the original jury would vote on).

So if you are currently an undergrad and need some liberal studies classes outside of your major, take a philosophy class. Many times requirements for even introductory philosophy classes can be intense, and of course there is lots of deep and abstract readings, but that’s a pro in my book! It’s not much worse than your average history or composition class anyway.

There’s a lot of hype about Prince of Persia’s new undying gameplay. If you haven’t heard– in the new Prince of Persia you apparently always have a magical friend who will pull you out of fatal situations to let you keep playing without downtime. I was interested from the point of game design, but as I read my memory began to recall the many recommendations over the years to try the Prince of Persia games. Up until now I never had.

So I finally grabbed a copy of Sands of Time (for those not in the know, that’s the PS2-era Prince games). What transpired was a veritably executed bait and switch maneuver by Ubisoft to first steal my heart, and then repeatedly drop it off cliffs into ground spikes.

Let me start by saying that Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is a tour de force of beautiful gameplay, capturing story, and intriguing presentation. The game starts out with the Persian king’s siege on the palace of it’s enemy the Maharajah, facilitated by the betrayal of the Maharajah’s corrupt Vizier Jaffa. The Prince plays a minor role in this, but manages to find his own unique keepsake: the Dagger of Time. This all goes well and the Persian’s have their way with the belongings (and apparently maidens) of the Maharajah’s palace. They also find a huge hourglass (the Hourglass of Time of course) which they cart off to their friend’s palace.

Persuaded by the treacherous Vizier (who for some unknown reason seems to be treated as some sort of trusted advisor to the Persian king??), the Prince stabs the dagger into the Hourglass of Time which manages to release the sands within, ravaging the people and palace in it’s wake. The people are turned into what amounts to Zombies, and your goal throughout the game is to get to the hourglass so you can somehow reverse this mess.

The gameplay is phenomenal, consisting of a brilliant blend of fast paced action, intelligent puzzles, excellent plot line, and extraordinary attention to detail. In many parts of the game I was surprised to see how well they had anticipated the character’s actions when scripting the voice work, and they even managed to make Farah, your female sidekick, not suck at fighting. There are many times when Farah is in the fight and needs help and no, you don’t always have to help her (at least to me, these parts never seemed too much like escort missions). Over the course of the game the Prince and Farah hit it off (surprise, surprise) and the romantic nuances are neither overwhelming nor poorly done.

I finished the game in two days of solid frenzied playing to experience an end which made me happy to have spent the time. I immediately started looking for it’s sequel, Warrior Within.

Here’s where shit hits the fan. I don’t want to say that Warrior Within isn’t a decent game in some respects… actually fuck it yeah that’s what I’m saying the game sucked. I spent more time on this one than Sands of Time but the reason I spent more time isn’t because the game was longer, or I was inspired to keep playing because of it’s excellent replay value. No. The reason is because it is so uncompromisingly brutal to it’s players.

For those who haven’t seen or played it, Warrior Within is the dark sequel. It’s the sequel you can be pretty sure was handed over by the Devil when Ubisoft Montreal sold their soul to keep the Prince of Persia franchise alive. Warrior Within couldn’t have been the first name they picked: I’m betting on Prince Of War, but alas there was already a popular ultra-violent racy demonic action/adventure game series for the PS2 that sounded like that. But in the end they picked a good name: it’s a name which embodies the plot of the game: fighting. What you say? Fighting isn’t a plot, but a gameplay element? Tell that to these sell out fucks, the only thing that qualifies as an actual plot point in the game is at the end when the plan doesn’t work and you decide to find the Sandwraith mask. And by that point in the game you just don’t care, you’d rather skewer yourself in the eye than get involved in anything this game throws you.

Mostly gone are the puzzles from Sands of Time, replaced by neverending sand enemies and mostly crappy rock music. Oh, I won’t forget mindlessly repetitive acrobatics, because unlike it’s predecessor, all the monkey work in this game revolves primarily about six possible paths, meaning by the end of the game you will fucking hate the world you are in. They didn’t have to drain all color from the game. They didn’t have to turn the Prince into a God of War wannabe with some unexplained pissed offness about the whole Sands of Time thing (psst: at the end of Sands of Time, everything returns to normal and none of it happened). The only justification for the game (and the journey it entails) is that the Prince is being chased by a big ass beast for fucking with the Sands of Time and not dying. So wait, this Empress of Time bitch makes these sands of time which are supposed to sit in an hourglass doing nothing, and if anyone unlocks them than they have to die? I’m sorry but what was the fucking point of making them in the first place!?

On top of that, the game is infuriatingly difficult, even on Easy. I played through Sands of Time in probably fifteen hours of gameplay with virtually no problems. That game also does not have a difficulty setting. Welcome to Prince of War, where I think the game has more fun killing me and throwing the insidious Game Over screen at my face. Come to think of it, I bet I spent more time sitting behind the game over screen than I did actually playing this game. So many deaths in the game out of reflex my mind said “this would be way more fun if it was easier”. So then it says OK well change the difficulty. Crap. Not only am I already on Easy but I would have to start a fresh game to change that.

The game is also extremely glitchy. I had to consult walkthroughs countless times just to make sure I had picked the correct path (the game is only SUPPOSED to give you one path but if you find some of the possible branches and take the wrong one, you will sit there for decades trying to figure out where you went wrong and why there is nowhere to go. There’s also lots of scripting glitches. At one point I was supposed to face a mini boss (the Golem), the battle music started but no enemies appeared. So I continued through the room and reached a window where I could look out on the “battlefield” to see the Golem had appeared down there and was patiently waiting for me to go back and kill it. Later in the game you must jump quickly between the masts of a broken ship before they fall down and even if executed perfectly, the Prince will likely glitch out and fall off it, forcing you to waste most of your time rewind powers to make it through it. The game even feature my most hated of all gameplay “features”, the times when you have literally the lowest amount of health you can possibly have and you have no choice but to go back to a previous save or face insurmountable odds fighting huge amounts of extremely difficult enemies without getting hit once. Believe it or not, the latter was the quicker option in many scenarios.

The Bink video codec used by the game for cutscenes is absolutely terrible. I’m sorry but my computer is rendering millions of polygons and particle effects, it’s applying NUMEROUS vertex and pixel shaders, it’s applying realistic lighting settings and real time shadows, and it’s using compositing to do motion blurs, color filters, all while the CPU is handling audio, enemy AI, input and general gameplay. This all works pretty fluidly on my system. So the question is, why in Canada’s freezer can’t the stupid Bink codec play these shitty quality cutscenes properly? This is definitely not just my problem, I found loads of forum posts across the web about frustrated users trying to fix their settings, even upgrading their hardware just to make the stupid cutscenes work right in this game!

There are redeeming points, but really they are all just bait to get you hooked. Once you’re deep into the game, you start loathing it; planning it’s assassination- some way to stop it from devouring your soul before you finish it. Oh wait, I didn’t finish it because I missed some life upgrades and the end boss battle is too difficult for me to care, considering the only way I’ll ever get that second ending is if I play through the entire game again and use a walkthrough to make sure I don’t miss the hidden life upgrades, which unlike in the Sands of Time, look entirely like the confusing maze your ALREADY trying to get through. I mean big surprise if you miss it considering half of the paths won’t let you get back easily. And what would the point of playing through again if it wasn’t somehow different. Usually in this sort of scenario I would up the difficulty level one notch. Oh right, I hardly made it through this game on easy. And I don’t ever want to see another square foot of that fucking island, nor do I want to ever hear the stupid fight music.

No, I haven’t and am not going to play Two Thrones (that’s the second sequel to Sands of Time) because I can’t risk to be used again for some Persian demonic agenda. I don’t have a PS3 or 360 to play the new Prince of Persia, but if I ever do, I think I will just not play it. I played Assassin’s Creed before this whole mess and loved every moment. In fact that style of acrobatic gameplay made me enjoy Sands of Time.

This isn’t the first franchise with a popular first game and a mind blowingly terrible sexed out, ultraviolent, big budget rock-music button mash romp for a sequel, but the boys at Ubisoft Montreal really took the concept to a new level. It’s the kind of game that gives you a choice: stop playing or risk partial or full-on insanity, rage, scitzophrenia, upset stomach, diahhrea, bloody nose, incontinence and partial disembowelment.

It’s overwhelmingly disappointing that such an excellent trilogy could be ruined for me by such an astronomically shitty game. The game actually induced me to think about ways to get back at the developers, for wasting not only my time but my love on a sold out piece of shit franchise. There’s an air of “the sequel lost it’s visionary” and as I look at Jordan Mechner’s Wikipedia (the creator of the original PoP game) it
does indeed mention that Mechner was actively involved in Sands of Time, but in name only for Warrior Within as he was busy with the movie. That explains a lot. The true genius leaves the house and all that’s left is the wannabe fuck designers who only care about getting a best seller game on their resume, at the expense of the fans. Well it won’t be at the expense of me, because I, sir, am not a fan.