Prometheus: this is what happens when idiots get into space

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Prometheus

As many other sci-fi fans, I went to see the Prometheus. That “Non-Alien” Alien movie. Which is like a prequel but not quite, because writing clear prequel was too boring, so there. And I have to say I am both pleasantly and unpleasantly surprised. Pleasant surprise — visuals. These days nobody is afraid of the guy in a rubber suit, and even edge of the first Alien is a bit dull (perhaps due to video transfer, or something else, or audience is somewhat jaded with all the high-quality photorealistic horror on the screen). And in Prometheus visuals are taken to the whole new level. Industrial design, holographic screens, even space-suits with obligatory “light up the chin to add spookieness” elements were fantastic.
Unfortunately, everything else goes down-hill pretty quickly. Essentially, this is what happens when idiots get to venture into space under a pretense of “meeting the makers”. Yes, science fiction requires you forget about little inconvenient details but here the whole plot has those little details screaming at you left and right.
Unless original movie was about three times as long and a huge amount of story got left out in the cutting room’s hard drive somewhere…
Without giving out much plot (did I just say “plot”? When “Lost” guy is involved? A-ha-ha-ha. But you might still want to stop reading right now), here’s the list of the major gripes:

- The very first scene is pointless, pretty landscape aside.
- David’s behavior is very inconsistent. I guess they were going for “creepy childhood-like innocence” angle, but got something that makes me think of malfunction or “programmed for something they didn’t tell us” thing instead (I don’t expect three-laws-safe but still).
- Dream-reading sequence is interesting, but doesn’t lead anywhere
- Not a single scientist thinks about biological contaminations. Ever. I bet they were drinking out of puddles back on earth because it looked like water too, right?
- First contact protocols be damned in general. I am grumpy if woken up unexpectedly, what would you expect from some mighty (and potentially evil) alien?
- Weyland industries spent “trillions of dollars” for the mission and got a high-school drop-out of a biologist? Really? After jumping at every noise and acting scared he goes all “coochie-coochie-coo little snakey”? WTF?
- What the heck happened to the geologist? Some sort of a mutant angle I’ve missed?
- Why did they choose Guy Pearce for that role? Was there a giant piece of story cut out?
- In order to grow from small to gi-fraking-normous things generally need to eat something.
- For goodness’ sake, when running away from round tire-like object do not run along the path. At least go diagonally, if running to the side is out of the question.
- Where the heck is the battery :)

That should do it for now. Otherwise, please turn off your brain and enjoy pretty pictures.

Diablo III: Launch night mega fail

Posted by & filed under Technology.

So, the battle with Evil is supposedly on. Except for Diablo III this Evil is way more real, and it’s name is “Error 37″.

Yet again Blizzard managed to severely underestimate the load. And when hoards of users decided to log in… well… you get “Error 37″. Hardware is expensive, and buying enough for the launch is, apparently, too much to ask.

Official Blizzard CS twitter account keeps on asking people to try again, and errors just keep on coming.

Of course the primary problem is somewhat different. Why demand that people log in even in single-user mode? I bet a sizable number of users would be happy to keep exploring single-player campaigns thus sparing Blizzard total server meltdown. But, I guess, they are too afraid of being behind the times, with multiplayer baked in forever. And the auction houses too, which pretty much precludes being able to collect gear in single mode (“it’ll be hacked!”)

And, of course, when the server craps out with Error 37, you have to type in paste your password over, and over, and over again. Because, well, who thinks about little UX problems like that?

*Sigh*

p.s. So as the launch day comes to an end, Blizzard took the servers down a number of times, for “patching”, “addressing an issue” and so on and so forth. When I was able to connect, ping was jumping up and down like Shaman’s frog, going from green to yellow to red and back in a matter of minutes. And playing on “yellow” is already practically impossible. Mega-fail :(

Review: Prototype 2 (4.5 stars)

Posted by & filed under Reviews, Technology.

Prototype 2

A little while ago I watched the Prototype walk-through (thank you, Tetraninja), and figured it could be fun to try the second game. Hence, I bought and actually already finished the game. Surprising, but it turned out to be pretty good, though rather short, so I’m giving it four stars out of five. Discarding the story aspect, it is very similar to, say, God of War 3, but with side missions and non-mythological world. Run around, hack/slash, pummel, stealthily consume military personnel and evil doctors.

Controls are fine, almost no problems with that (my controller actually crapped out half-way through the game, causing a lot of cursing as Heller started to do weird things all of a sudden). Camera controls are also ok, though sometimes precise targeting is rather silly and inconvenient, which makes getting particular challenges done almost impossible for me (mostly because I suck at games, especially shooting things with a controller instead of a mouse). Most difficult was one of “collect content from all of the boxes” sub-mission. I swear, I had to do it about 30 times, every time falling short a second or two due to constantly being shut down by missiles. If you get to that spot remember: you can jump up while on the wall, instead of running up. Oh, and don’t glide if you don’t have too — that’s actually slower than just jumping directly.

Art and presentation is very good. While it’s not as gorgeous as, say, Castlevania: LOS, it’s still rather nice. New York city looks rather realistic (with only occasional glitches here and there). Heller and other characters don’t have overly triangulated shape, animation is very well done. I know the Verge complained about it being almost exactly the same as an old Hulk game, but I think the reason for that is it’s natural. If you effectively captured human motion of throwing things it will be pretty much the same. Jumping, falling down, carrying things — it will always look the same if it’s natural (save for the fact that you can lift up a car instead of a keg of beer).

Amount of content is rather small though. The whole game feels like it’s a limited sub-plot in a larger story, especially if you only count “primary” quests — side quests are giving you new abilities but aren’t really required.

A couple of rants (spoilers are blacked out).

1. As advertised widely, Alex Mercer is now quite evil. I couldn’t figure out why. Did I miss some explanatory video/memory somewhere? Did he get his brains fried due to nuclear explosion at the end of the first game? I mean what happened? By the end he did mention one aspect why he could have choosen Heller over everyone else but it seemed rather implausible.

2. Ending is rather unsatisfying. Which lately has been a theme for new games. Here I guess authors are quite confident there will be Prototype 3, hence ending leaves “ok, so what?” feeling. He saved his daughter, and Mercer’s sister survived, but the city is in ruins and it isn’t clear what they are going to do. Plus, whom did he see murdered at the beginning, if his daughter actually survived? Question mark in a trophy implies “murdering” of Mercer might not be so final

3. A number of characters are also acting bonkers. They seem to be “good” then “bad” then “good” again just for the heck of it. Was it an attempt at an intrigue? Kinda failed if it was. Perhaps something got cut out due to budget constrains…

4. The RadNet “social” features didn’t seem to be too special to me, but then I’m not known to play well with others. Okay, maybe something like Mortal Kombat once in a while. Here they give some special challenges (dive-bombing, speed-runs etc) and automatically show your friends in that menu so you can compare your scores. Neat, but if you don’t have anyone who also played the features it’s pointless. Extra events are being unlocked once a week, so I’ll have to wait for a bit for the second set.

Overall 4.5 stars due to the short story. If there will be Prototype 3, I will certainly buy that :)

Paper App: why half of users hate it

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I had a short Twitter conversation with one of my co-workers and brilliant designer, Elyse Holladay and she mentioned, how odd it seemed that so many people complain about the Paper app — free sketch application that takes “freemium” model to the extreme, so I thought I’d try to crystallize my thoughts on why would people hate it.

First, why people wouldn’t hate it — it’s gorgeous. Well styled, elegant and quite pretty. Album sets of pages are great, and I’ve figured out the navigation in a few seconds without even reading the introduction. You have your pen tool and a set of colors and that’s it.

And that’s probably where complains start to roll in. Limitations and “premium” part. People are used to the idea of having a full set of tools. For graphical editors you generally always have color fill, brush, pencil, eraser. Here each step takes another two bucks to do. Want a wider brush? Two dollars. Color wider area with “water color”? Also two dollars. Medium marker kind of thing? Yup, two dollars. And all tools are always “present” but grayed out. Color palette also, while well designed, is fixed and you simply can’t change it. Want a blue highlight? Nope. Crave red instead of lighter orange shade? Out of luck. I don’t understand why they’ve added this restriction, as it simply doesn’t make any sense.

Elyse was arguing that tool buying in Paper is the same model as in “freemium” games, as you simply can buy “expanded” items, while being able to use one included tool absolutely free. Technically — yes. Practically it’s cutting a bit too deep. I’d say this is an equivalent of free game not allowing you to run to the right or jump until you buy an expansion pack for real dollars. You can walk around things by only turning left, but that’s it.

Paper even hints you that you will probably need all the tools. They’re right there in the toolbar. So if they simply offered the free app as a “demo” and also had regular $8 sketch app there wouldn’t be any complains (well, maybe some people would say it’s expensive but that’s true for most apps, there’s always “not worth it” comment somewhere). Or if “additional” tools were not shown at all, and were added as you buy them.

But for better or worse, Fifty Three decided to annoy the customers. Their choice. Some, who do sketching often, probably will simply buy all the tools in one pack. For everyone else there’s Sketchbook Express, that while not looking so pretty gives you a great variety of tools for free (and yes, you can buy additional brushes and stuff if you want to, but both brush and pencil are available for free, along with a full color wheel). Now, off to delete the app to avoid reminding myself that my sketching looks like a chicken scratch. Done by a very drunk and disoriented chicken… :)

Games and escapism — not so much escaping lately

Posted by & filed under Misc, Technology.

I have to admit, I play games to forget about my day. Heck, about regular reality at all. It’s a perfect way, really, or at least it used to be. Aside from being able to restore previously saved game state and try again (admit it, you wanted to do that with presidency — save the game, vote one of the crazier guys in, and restore it later when things predictably go horribly wrong) games, just like true Hollywood Movies, give you an idea of a great ending.

Yes, your main character might have been shot over 20 times, hanged by a thread, picked the wrong castle, but in the end the princess is yours. Maybe not from the first try, but there is a way, be it from countless tries or reading spoiler-riddled walk-through. Heck, some games can be just watched as a multi-hour long movie (Bulletstorm, for example). However, lately games seem to be headed in that whole “drama” direction by the way of screwing up their ending.

Sometimes it’s a desire to have a giant gaping hole for a sequel, sometimes it’s not. But it worries me. Whole Mass Effect 3 debacle is silly, but it hints at a simple truth — if you want drama, go and do some Oscar-worthy lightly attended independent movie. The more main characters you kill off, the bleaker the picture is at the end (a tiny note of hope that, maybe, in a few hundred generations things will be “back to normal” doesn’t count), the better odds of that small audience loving it, and you being showered with praise and awards. When you do it in the game, you’d better have a sequel locked up, or else your customers will be pissed.

Let’s see:

God of War III — unsatisfying ending (though at the end there is a small ray of hope, more of a stain of hope) along with a promise not to do another game.
Enslaved — one big WTF moment (should have guessed where this was going)
Bulletstorm — groan-inducing ending that screams Bulletstorm 2, which won’t come, like ever (not enough sales, too much complaining about bad language)
ME3 — a giant s*tstorm of epic proportions because writers went all Shakespeare on us
Castlevania: Lords of the Shadows — kind of “what?!” but they do have an excuse of another game coming out this year, so they get a pass.

What is going on? Just give people what they want, and relax, after a few years of hard work of building a great game.

Though I guess like in Hollywood even my rant has a somewhat happy ending. Bioware is thinking and waiting for the right time to address complaints. I guess the pro-drama-ending guys still pout about not being kissed in all body parts after making things “hard and dramatic”. So, keep up the good work, gamers. Complain, if you don’t like it. And hope that there will be a DLC fix after all…