2011 Feb 08 rinoa

Guy Blade Guy Blade---06:10:00

Last week, I was in DC for work. It was mostly uneventful, but I did manage to make my way to the American Art Museum one afternoon. I think the most interesting part was the Alexis Rockman exhibit, but I found most of the modern art section to be rather fascinating.


When I got back, I found that my primary linux desktop (mystique) seemed to be acting up. After some investigation, I found that one of the drives had been kicked out of the raid array (causing excessive slowness) and there was a bad bit on one of the RAM chips (causing random crashes). I initially assumed that the RAM was the cause of the raid issue. Unfortunately, after spending much of Sunday swapping out ram chips and running memtest86 repeatedly, I was no closer to actually confirming which chip was bad. Instead, I decided to replace the motherboard, process, ram, and disks since, at this point, I can't really pin down which of them is the true culprit. Multi-devices failures are very troublesome, so I'm just jettisonning the whole thing and starting over.

Luckily, I have a currently disused rackmount case (formerly freasha, now replaced with a new 1U version), so I've just pulled all the old hardware out of it and will use it to build the replacement. Also, I happened to have a portable eSATA HDD with data that could be to erased, so I've used it to rebuild the array until new hardware arrives.

The interesting thing is that the dying machine was built with 5x500 GiB drives in a raid5 array (~2 TiB total). Since I am not terribly interested in making a bigger array, what I've done is to buy 4x1TiB drives and I'm going to put them in raid6 so that I won't have to run around looking for a replacement drive should one fail. I've had to do so in the past and was lucky enough to not have to do it this time due to spare equipment.


In unrelated news, I somehow ended up reading the entire back archive of El Goonish Shive over the last 4 or 5 days. I don't quite remember how I found myself there, and I'd never really read the comic before. I found it to be strangely compelling, so I guess I'll keep following it for now. I must say that carrying out an archive binge is really quite exhausting. It is also rather disappointing to reach the end and find there is nothing more.


In even more unrelated news, Blogger seems to be broken in some strange way, recently. My main account for posting to it now returns an error message when it attempts to pull the list of blogs that I can post to via xpost. Initially, I thought that perhaps something had changed in the protocol api, but apparently nothing has. Instead, some change has been pushed that causes some accounts to have problems. The account still authenticates correctly, but can't pull blog lists to populate the UI. This seems to be a known issue that has been going on for over a month without complete resolution. I ended up adding my google apps account as an author, just so that I could post. Highly annoying.

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2011 Jan 08 emeralda

Guy Blade Guy Blade---23:11:00

Password Quality
Earlier this week, I did some calculations on the number of unique passcodes possible using Android's matrix login. In the comments to that post, I mentioned that I thought there were very, very few such passwords that were symmetric, but failed to quantify now few that was. locallunatic took a couple of stabs at it before giving up, but I spent some time this morning working my way through it.

So, what I'm looking for precisely are any passwords in which are symmetric about the center up-down axis. For instance, the password "1 8 3" would be symmetric.

To that end, there are several classes of such passwords that will make counting easier:

Trivial Passswords: the single digit passwords "2", "5", and "8". 3 Total

Passwords with 2+ digits all on the central axis:
Example "2, 5". There are 2 possible length 2 passwords and 2 possible directions (up to down and down to up) and 1 possible length 3 password with 2 possible directions.

2 * 2 * 2 + 1 * 2 = 10 Total

Passwords of form 'stuff in column 1, a digit in column 2, and the reverse of column 1 in column 3':

Passwords of this form are all odd in length and can further be subdivided based on total password length.

Length 3: Passwords with one digit on the left, a center digit, and the compliment.

There are three left digits to choose from, then three digits to choose from for the center and one for the final column. Also, since passwords going left to right and passwords going right to left are unique in the password quality, we double the total number of choices.

Therefore 3 * 3 * 2 = 18 Total .

Length 5: Passwords with a two-digit sequence in column one, a center digit and the inverse of the sequence in column three. Example: "1 4 9 6 3". There are two possible two digit cominations. Each combination can be oriented either up or down. There are still three choices for the center digit and two possible directions.

So, 2 * 2 * 3 * 2 = 24 Total

Length 7: Passwords with a three-digit sequence in column one, a center digit, and the inverse in the last column. There is one possible choice of numbers, but two up-down orderings and two left-right orderings.

Thus, 2 * 3 * 2 = 12 Total

Add up all of these and you get the total number of possible passwords: 67


Incidentally, I believe my earlier calculation is probably incorrect as it doesn't count passwords like "2 1 3" which is valid, but not envisioned by my previous program. This will increase the count somewhat, but I've not yet run the calculation.

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2011 Jan 06 aya

Guy Blade Guy Blade---03:56:00

Password Quality
A while back, my old n900 was stolen, so I replaced it by getting a T-Mobile G2 phone. It is rather nice and so far I've been rather happy with it.

Like most Android phones, it allows the use of a 3 by 3 grid on which you can draw and connect symbols.

Someone else's phone showing the logon matrix:

This lets you pick any of the nine points as a start and then connect any number of points, no more than once each, to produce a sort of visual password.

Now, I was wondering this morning, while half awake, how many unique passwords this produces. The trick is that not all possible combinations are valid. For instance, if a password begins in the upper left hand corner, it cannot have the upper right hand corner as its next "digit". Instead, it must first pass through the upper center orb. With no more than 9 possible digits, it seemed like it would be easy to calculate the number of unique combinations recursively, so I did:

(define max-passwords
(lambda ()
(lambda (val lst)
((eq? lst '()) #f)
((eq? (car lst) val) #t)
(else (in-list val (cdr lst))))))
(lambda (num)
((eq? num 1) (list 2 4 5 6 8))
((eq? num 2) (list 1 3 4 5 6 7 9))
((eq? num 3) (list 2 4 5 6 8))
((eq? num 4) (list 1 2 3 5 7 8 9))
((eq? num 5) (list 1 2 3 4 6 7 8 9))
((eq? num 6) (list 1 2 3 5 7 8 9))
((eq? num 7) (list 2 4 5 6 8))
((eq? num 8) (list 1 3 4 5 6 7 9))
((eq? num 9) (list 2 4 5 6 8)))))
(lambda (ok used)
;(display (reverse used))
(+ 1 (apply +
(lambda (x)
(if (in-list x used) 0
(valid-sucs (ok-vals x) (cons x used))))
(apply +
(lambda (x)
(valid-sucs (ok-vals x) (list x)))
(list 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9))))))

Turns out that if you run this, you end up with 140,249 unique passwords of any length (1 to 9 orbs).

I also calculated what it would be if you could go from (say) upper left to upper right without being forced to go through the center and found that it was 986,409 possible passwords of any length (1 to 9 orbs).

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2010 Nov 27 elly-miang

Guy Blade Guy Blade---10:30:00

So, yesterday I went out to Riverside for a Thanksgiving celebration with one of my friends out there. We ate a lot, played a bunch of boardgames, and generally had a good time. At then end of the day, I went out to my car and found that it had been robbed.

The thief had taken both my GPS device (bought almost exactly a year ago) and my cellphone (the n900 that I've had for about 9 months). I used one of my friends cell phone to attempt to negotiate with the thief for the return of the device by text messaging my phone, but was ultimately unsuccessful. The thief considered any return attempt to be "too risking" which is probably a reasonable assessment on his part. He did agree to clear the device; however, I had no way of confirming such a thing. Robbing people during Thanksgiving: the new American pasttime.

I suppose I was lucky that the thief was apparently rushing. S/He managed to miss the $100 in quarters that was in the front passenger seat (covered by a magazine), my iPod that was in the front center console (covered up by various papers, and my DSiXL which was in the center console pocket.

I've written off both devices as simply gone and have already made steps to replace them. Amazon had several Black Friday deals on GPS devices, so I picked up a TomTom from one. I then went to the Pasadena T-Mobile store and signed a new contract to get a new phone. This time, I've gone with a G2 which is an Android phone with a flip out keyboard. My hope is that it is mostly on feature parity with my old phone. It was rather difficult to get T-Mobile to let me get a new phone, with a contract discount, with my old number. They seemed to be convinced that this was impossible, but when I made the argument that I could simply walk one block down to ATT and get a new phone, with my old number, under a contract if they were unwilling to help, then it suddenly became possible.

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2010 Nov 16 harle

Guy Blade Guy Blade---04:08:00

Visual Overload
Over the weekend, I went to the Caltech Anime Society showings like I usually do. This weekend, there was a feature being shown that I'd never even heard of: Dead Leaves. To set things up, this is an hour-long OVA animated by Production I.G. (the same people who did Eden of the East and Ghost in the Shell: SAC) and directed by Imaishi Hiroyuki (director of RE: Cutey Honey (at least the first episode) and Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann).

This made it clear that it had some pedigree going in, but I was completely blown away but what I actually found. The movie was 60 solid minutes of action, over-the-top violence, and sexualization. The film throws so much at the viewer so quickly that it is almost impossible to take in the amount of visual input being offered. It is almost a wonder to behold that so much can be going on for so long without much of any real break. It was so strong that one of the attendees who is slightly more sensitive to high-motion video couldn't even watch it. Nevertheless, even with this, the OVA managed to have a plot that mostly held together--even if it didn't bother to explain itself much.

I would certainly recommend it to anyone who enjoyed Gurren Lagann or RE: Cutey Honey as it seems to be channelling them.

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2010 Oct 18 emeralda

Guy Blade Guy Blade---11:06:00

Intensive Testing
I want to do a test. The test is a as follows:

1. Purchase a new Nintendo DSi.
2. Verify working condition.
3. Tape lid closed.
4. Attach postage necessary to send it from (say) Los Angeles to Terre Haute.
5. Determine if said device still functions and to what extent.

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2010 Oct 07 emeralda

Guy Blade Guy Blade---00:30:00

How to fail
This morning, I got up and was unable to access the internet via my Charter cable line. I assumed it was my router acting up again, but after a few attempts realized something else was wrong. I called up their technical support line and began going through the automated system. Their automated system had me do exactly what I had previously been doing before I got fed up with it and asked for an agent.

After confirming my identity, the agent informed me that my service was suspended due to an outstanding balance. This surprised me as I had set up automated payment of my bill about two months ago. The agent then transfered me to billing who informed me that my automated payment had been "suspended" rather than activated, but offered no reason as to why that might be the case. The billing agent even informed me that the notes on the account didn't include a reason why the automated payment hadn't been properly activated. She then attempted to charge me a $2 fee for "service reactiviation" which I balked at given the fact that it was they who failed to bill me properly.

Points of failure in this conversation:

1. The automated payment of my bills was blocked for no known reason and without informing me.
2. The automated help line failed to recognize that my service was disabled due to a billing issue and instead tried to walk me through nominal troubleshooting.
3. Transferring from one agent to another (even the automated to human technical support agents) requires reauthentication at each step. This led to me providing my phone number thrice and my address twice.
4. The agent attempted to charge me a fee for what amounts to their own incompetence.

Summary: Fuck Charter.

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2010 Oct 05 relm

Guy Blade Guy Blade---00:43:00

WX, You are my bane
So, I've been sitting at IND for the last hour or so. I had expected to spend this time trying to cut up the recording of the most recent 004 show using Audacity. Unfortunately, something is wrong with my Ubuntu install such that WX Widgets seems to not have the files for i18n support which causes it to fail at runtime. I have no idea why this might be the case, but reinstalling individual libraries (or the explicit i18n package) doesn't seem to work. I guess I've just wasted the last hour.

Maybe I'll try a dist-upgrade once I get home....

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2010 Sep 11 rinoa

Guy Blade Guy Blade---01:54:00

The week before last, I finished playing through God of War III. If you've been living in a hole for the last two gaming generations, you might be unaware that the God of War games are a series of third person action games from Sony and exclusive to their platforms.

At this point, I think most people are familiar with the gameplay of the God of War series and this iterations doesn't deviate substantially from the mold. That said, the gameplay does remain solid, even if new innovations are mostly absent. Controls are tight and the translation from PS2 to PS3 hasn't had any particular impact.

I spent a lot of time thinking about this game and how I'd review it. From a purely technical perspective, the game is quite good. My concern is that the game didn't engage me the same way that it's predecessors did. I think this is mostly due to the tone and pacing which means that there are spoilers ahead.

This iteration picks up right where the second game ended: Kratos riding the Earth Titan Gaia up the side of Olympus with muderous intent. Honestly, I think this was a brilliant ending to the first one which was just enough "over the top" to be powerful. The problem I found is that the game seems to try to continually top itself, but at some point, it feels as though they're just trying to hard. The game opens with a fight against Poseidon and this is somewhat endemic of the problem. When you start by fighting one of the three Greater Gods of Olympus, there are only so many places left to go. This most notably manifests itself in the later fights against Hermes and Apollo which feel more like curb-stomping than legitamite foes. Worse still is the non-fight against Hera who is killed in a cutscene by Kratos simply grabbing her and snapping her neck then using her body to weigh down a switch. That sort of general trivialization of the gods also shows up with Apollo whose head, after his defeat, is carried around to be used as a glorified flashlight.

All of this taken together makes it seem as though the Gods of Olympus don't really represent a threat to him which is a dramatic shift in tone from the previous games. Thus, when you finally end up in the final encounter with Zeus, he seems less like a larger than life, existential threat to Kratos and more like a minor tyrant struggling to hold onto his kingdom. A battle that should have felt as epic and tenuous as the first game's battle against Aries instead feels like just another boss fight.

Where does this leave us, though? If you played the first two, you should probably finish the story. If you didn't, I'd suggest the first one (available in a PS3 collected edition on a single disc with the second game) instead as it is a more compelling game. Trying to start playing the series with this game would be the wrong thing to do, though.

God of War III: 0

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2010 Sep 02 emeralda

Guy Blade Guy Blade---08:56:00

Shipping Difficulties
Over the weekend, I ordered a case of Bawls Guarana from Amazon because my supply was getting low. I had expected to get it yesterday due to the tracking information, but it didn't come until today. When I opened the box, I was somewhat surprised as the cans, which usually come in a sort of cardbord box with a plastic shrink wrapping, were instead wrapped up in a heavy plastic bag and sealed in with a zip tie. Upon inspection, I quickly discovered why: apparently two of the cans (of 24) had burst in transit. This is actually the second time (out of maybe 4 total orders) that I've gotten Bawls from Amazon where there were damaged cans. The previous occasion, the cans were merely dented and bulged. This time, of the 24 cans, there were two bursts (through the sides no less) and two dented enough that they wouldn't stand upright when left alone. My guess is that the shipping company simply tied them up after the burst and assumed that it was someone else's problem.

I immediately got on the phone with Amazon, hoping to at least get the case pro-rated (i.e., a 1/12 refund). Upon talking to a human, they were exceedinly apologetic and offered me a $15 promotional credit as compensation. I found this very generous since that was about a third of the purchase price. Unfortunately, I did still have to rinse all of the other cans since they'd had soda spilled all over them.

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2010 Sep 01 yuffie

Guy Blade Guy Blade---00:35:00

The Power of Metal
Last week, I finished my playthrough of Brutal Legend. Brutal Legend is the Jack Black heavy metal game from late last year.

Brutal Legend begins with the Jack Black character (Eddie) as a roadie for a band consisting mostly of characters who are expies of characters from Psychonauts. He is quickly smashed by a portion of the band's stage and apparently dies. Upon waking, he is on an alter being worshipped by cultists who seem disappointed to have found him rather than whatever they were attempting to summon and begin to attack him. A few moments later, he has found a guitar and a literal axe and is cutting them up. Eddie quickly finds some freedom fighters who are trying to overthrow the evil cultist power structure and he signs up. The game thereafter follows the progression of their rebellion.

The main distinguishing feature of Brutal Legends is its setting. The game is set in a sort of post-apocalyptic future (incorrectly recognized by the protagonist as the past) where music has been forgotten. Of course, the whole point of the game is the Metal, so the game features a soundtrack almost completely filled with it as well as characters who are designed to look like (and often voiced by) famous Rock and Metal artists. Ozzy Osbourne is the Guardian of Metal--a mystical shopkeeper of sorts--for instance.

Unfortunately, the gameplay of Brutal Legends is rather disappointing. The game has two main modes. The first is an uninspiring free-exploration type game mode. In this mode, you play as Eddie and have the ability to do sidequests, search for power-ups, and the like. Despite my normal tendency to wander in open worlds, I found myself completely disinterested with such a proposition, primarily due to the lack of much to do in the world near the beginning of the game and the relative ease of dying.

The second game mode is the real core of the gameplay--real-time strategy. Unfortunately, this game offers up a real-time strategy model that is mostly untenable. Firstly, you still can only directly control Eddie (who acts somewhat like a Hero unit from Warcraft III), so you spend most of the time in any given RTS encounter by running around the map relaying orders. Secondly, it is difficult to impossible to deliver fine-grained orders or to control troops tactically. Instead, you often are forced to control units en masse and hope that your unit mix is successful at defeating the enemy. The whole system tends to encourage an attitude of "rush first; restart if you stall" since enemies are almost always better able to manage their troop mix.

I had initially been somewhat interested in the plot of the game. The writing was generally decent and the characters somewhat interesting, but the quality tended to fall over the course of the game. Eddie began to show knowledge that he had no business having (since he wasn't from this time period) and the last third or so of the game is actually revealed to be an idiot plot right before the final fight.

Taken together, I can't say there was much to like here. The music is decent, but that should be expected of a game that gets to choose the best metal of the last 30 years as its soundtrack. Luckily, the game is very short--perhaps 4-6 hours if you only do the main plot.

Brutal Legend: 0

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2010 Aug 24 rinoa

Guy Blade Guy Blade---02:48:00

Winged Helmets would make it Perfect.
Last week, I finished my playthrough of Valkyria Chronicles. It is a tactical-ish RPG for the PS3 which is now a couple years old (it's old enough to not have trophy support). I say tactical-ish because although measured in gameplay, it is certainly a tactical game with RPG elements, but it lacks many of the standard tactical RPG cliches. Of course, I think this is to its credit.

Valkyria Chronicles takes place in an alternate history version of World War II. Although it occurs on the European continent, all of the countries have had their borders redrawn and the fight is primarily between a Western "Allied Federation" and an Eastern "Empire". The game focuses on the country of Gallia--a state obviously modeled after Switzerland with its complete neutrality and universal conscription and situated about where Lithuania is today. Gallia has rich reserves of the universally useful energy producing ore known as Ragnite and the Empire begins the game by invading Gallia in an attempt to capture this resource to fuel its war machine into Western Europe. The game eventually develops some supernatural elements as the less obvious intentions of the Empire begin to manifest.

I found the plot and characters to be very compelling and I probably would have kept playing to see how it turned out. Of course, I think much of this was due to the obviously rewritten script for the English release. I used the Japanese language soundtrack with English subtitles enabled, and, although I am not fluent in Japanese, I know enough to know that many translations were not at all close to literal. Most notably, the primary female protagonist--who often responds to the main character's more empassioned moments by simply saying said protagonist's name in the original Japanese dialog--had many of her lines rewritten so that she said something useful or at least relevant instead. I know that some people may think that translation should be about preserving the original work, but this game in particular may be a case where an adaptation can improve the characterization substantially.

The real strength of the game, however, is the gameplay which is far different than the standard tactical RPG gridmap configuration. The game proceeds in turns in which each side is allocated a fixed number of "Control Points". Control points are used to command infantry (1 point), tanks (2 points), or issue orders to units (variable). When the player takes control of a unit, the game goes from its standard tactical map view to a third person perspective behind the unit with relative autonomy of movement--no grids to be found. In this mode, each character has a fixed movement rate and can take one action. Actions are usually either healing or firing a weapon with movement and weapon choices determined by their class. While moving, characters are vulnerable to opportunity fire from nearby enemy units, so rushing headlong into an enemy encampment is rightly discouraged, but sneaking around behind cover is often rewarded. Another unique aspect of the system shows in the actual attacking mechanic. Once a player has decided that they are properly set for an attack, they can go into "aiming mode". This is an over-the-shoulder view from the unit's perspective that allows manual aim of whatever firearm the unit has. The game will auto-aim at the center of mass of enemy units to help the player, but skilled players can aim for headshots to increase damage potential with a chance of missing outright due to bullet spread.

There is a lot to like in the general configuration of the battle system. By making the limit one of "total action" rather than limiting total units and giving 1 action per unit, more advanced strategies become possible. At the same time, to prevent simply running one unit through an entire mission, the game provides diminishing returns in the form of reduced movements on subsequent actions taken on the same turn and, for certain classes like snipers, limited ammunition. The balance thus struck is remarkably workable.

I have only two complaints about the game. First, it seems to be set up so as to encourage grinding. Leveling is done on a per class rather than per character basis, so it often seemed (to me) like power levelling was a compelling proposition. The extent to which some of this is required to beat the game is unclear to me. I never particularly had serious problems with a level, but this may have been due to being over levelled for much of the game. Second, I found the final level of the game to be somewhat frustrating. Although it was a trick fight and I had immediately figured out the trick, I hadn't found a way to actually control the battle and win. I ultimately had to go to a faq for a workable strategy which I consider indicative of a problem in the mission's design.

Notwithstanding those two issues, I would highly recommend this game. It is quite easily the best tactical RPG that I've ever played and also one of the best RPGs that I've played in quite a while.

Valkyria Chronicles: 1!

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Guy Blade Guy Blade---01:44:00

The Power of Technology
So, I forgot my iPod at home this morning. Rather than turning WMHD into my personal video game music station or listening to NPR all day, I decided to give Pandora a try. I've always heard good things about it from various people, after all.

I gave it a starting point of Daft Punk and then added about 5 other artists. Given the interviening 5 hours with me providing positive and negative feedback, it is providing a rather accurate approximation of my electronica collection along with mixing in some new songs. In fact, of the last 8 songs that it has selected, only 2 are not currently on my iPod. I consider this to be somewhat amazing. I suppose with a large enough corpus of data, such things become possible.

On the other hand, every single advertisement has been for automobile related things: Ford cars or Carmax being the majority. I think this had a subtle influence on me as I noticed that the featured slickdeals blog post was about car shopping and read about it when I usually wouldn't have done so...

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2010 Aug 18 relm

Guy Blade Guy Blade---23:59:00

Wake Up
Last week, I completed two playthroughs of Alan Wake. Alan Wake is a third person horror game developed by Remedy Entertainment--most commonly known for making the first two Max Payne games.

Alan Wake is centered around the titular author. Famous for his series of Alex Casey (quite obviously a name-swapped version of Max Payne) novels, he is now in a slump after finishing the last book in the previous series and hasn't put a word on a page in over a year at the beginning of the story. He has come to the small town of Bright Springs on a vacation. His wife hopes that the trip will help him overcome his writer's block, but when she reveals her wish, Wake stomps out of their rental cabin in a huff. Moments later, his wife screams out, and once he returns to the cabin, he finds a broken railing overlooking the lake the cabin is situated on and dives in after where she has presumably gone.

The next scene shown to the players is of Wake in his car, crashed over a small cliff with his wife nowhere to be found. He is far from town and attempts to make his way to a nearby gas station. As he does, he finds pages of a manuscript that he doesn't remember writing, but that bear his name and the title he was planning on using for his next book. Soon thereafter, he begins to find shadowy humans who attack him on sight and can only be hurt by burning off a layer of "darkness" covering them and then firing at the exposed body underneith. Once at the gas station, he discovers that he is missing a week of time in his memories and begins a desperate struggle to discover what happened in the missing week and what has happened to his wife.

The gameplay of Alan Wake is mostly of the form "get from point A to point B without dying". On the lowest difficulty level, this is generally a question of simply controlling crowds with the flashlight and then gunning down the enemies once their darkness shields have been broken. On the higher two difficulties, the game actually achieves its horror setting. On these difficulties, enemies have more darkness to shield them and take far more ammunition to kill. As such, the game becomes more about conserving equipment and trying to avoid, dodge, or distract the evils in the night.

Two kinds of enemies make up the bulk of the threat to Wake: the Taken and the Poltergeists. The Taken are human-shaped bodies which are protected by darkness and which usually pursue Wake with melee weapons. They can be slowed by shining a flashlight on them until their shield of darkness burns off and then shooting them with normal firearms. Poltergeists, on the other hand, are objects which have been controlled by whatever evil is pursuing Wake. They are thrown about in their entirety and can only be destroyed by shining the light at them until they are burned away. Despite having a fundamentally limited set of obstacles, the game manages to keep things fresh by putting Wake against them in various interesting ways. For instance, the game at one point introduces flashbangs. Rather than having them as an addition to an already outfitted character, players are instead given them as the only weapon to defend themselves in the night. This forces the player to become acquainted with their use, conservation, and strategy.

I ultimately found the plot of Alan Wake to be very compelling. What I think sets it apart from other contemporary horror games is that, despite being in a disturbing situation, the main character actually has allies who take him seriously and also experience the madness going on about them. Here, I'd compare to Deadly Premonition where although there is madness all around, the protagonist seems to be the only one who experiences it. I found that giving Wake allies who also had to deal with the craziness gave it a grounding that helped keep things cohesive.

It is somewhat uncommon for me to play through a game twice, so that may be evidence of my feelings about the game. On balance, I think it is one of the better games that I've played in a while and certainly one of the finest in the horror genre. Without using the cheap scares and startles that some horror games insist on using, Alan Wake managed to convey an environment that was hostile, frightening, and still somehow just a bit too close to possible.

Alan Wake: 1!

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2010 Aug 10 namine

Guy Blade Guy Blade---21:18:00

Maybe we should have left these Sands Forgotten
Last week, I finished Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. This Prince of Persia game is an interquel that takes place between Sands of Time and Warrior Within.

First, the gameplay here is very much what we've come to expect from the Prince of Persia series. The platforming is solid, and they've introduced a couple of new elements to add to the standard configuration. Specifically, they've added the ability to freeze water without freezing the rest of the environment. This mostly is used for puzzles which end up having relatively strict timing constraints. The second new element is conditional platforms. Essentially, there are certain areas of the game which are somehow in disrepair. You can fix these areas, but only one at a time. This often means leaping from one semi-existant platform and toggling the next one while in midair. The new and classic mechanics all come together at the end of the game in the "Final Climb" which is perhaps the most challenging Prince of Persia platforming section that I've ever encountered.

The comabt system, however, has had the difficulty dialed way down. There were almost no fights that I really considered challenging on the Normal (highest of two) difficulty. The game gives four special power sets for the fighting system, but they are mostly unnecessary. Every fight can be beaten using only the sword and without much difficulty at that. It turns out that you can generally get three free sword swings and then roll away without being hit by any enemy in 90+% of all combat situations due to the fact that dodge rolling into an enemy interrupts their incredibly long telegraphing sequence. Nevertheless, the game generally gives you a large number of enemies to try to make it seem like you're still under threat, even if they are essentially just fodder to slow you down.

My main problem with the game comes from its place in the larger Sands of Time setting (SPOILERS COMING; you've been warned). As I mentioned above, Forgotten Sands takes place between the first and second games in the Sands of Time triology, but fundamentally adds nothing to the series. The Prince now has a brother, but it doesn't matter because he doesn't survive to the end. He gains access to new powers, but loses them at the end, so there's no reason to question why he doesn't have them in Warrior Within. The Dahaka apparently hasn't started pursuing him yet, but we're given no explanation as to why. Given the Dahaka's relative lack of explanation aside from "The Prince broke time and now must die", this game could have served to expand on what the led to the Dahaka finally taking action against the prince. Instead, the whole issue is simply ignored. In fact, the only references back to Sands of Time are a few lines of throwaway dialog near the beginning of the game explicitly mentioning Farah and Azad. Without those lines, the game could simply be considered to be yet another continuity without any negative impacts or plot holes.

It is as if Ubisoft went to pains to make sure that this game fundamentally doesn't matter to the greater picture of the Sands of Time setting. The Prince doesn't particularly learn any lessons nor does he have any particular responsibility for the events which occur. Something bad happens due to the actions of others and he has to fix them. This is a very different theme from the rest of the Sands of Time games. In those games, the Prince is continually being subject to the results of the errors of his past. He released the Sands and everything due to that is his responsibility, whether he likes it or not, whether or not it is fair or just. Forgotten Sands doesn't fit that mold and may disrupt the overall message of the series.

As an aside, I'll note that this is probably the game which took me the least time to get a perfect gamerscore on of the dozen or so games that I've perfected. It only took one playthrough and about half of another to get all of the achievements in the game. Given a total gameplay time of perhaps 9-12 hours on a first pass and substantially less on a second one (due to memorized puzzles and enemies being mostly skippable), I suspect this would be an easy game for score boosters.

Overall, I can't say the game was bad. If all that mattered in a game were its gameplay, it would probably get a 1 rating from me, but the fact that the story is so obviously just tacked onto a successful franchise and adds so little to an otherwise rich setting undermines the entire game in my eyes. Maybe it is also wrapped up in my disappointment that Ubisoft chose to make this game rather than making a sequel for the promising though controversial (and in my mind excellent) 2008 reboot of the series. Regardless, a Prince of Persia game comes with high expectations and they failed to meet mine.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands: 0

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