Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Brown Americans [tf charts]

Today's chart was inspired by Representative Curt Clawson (R-FL).  Rep Clawson, upon meeting (and being introduced to, with title) Nisha Biswal and Arun Kumar.

The plot: Rep. Clawson spoke to these two fine brown people as if they were foreign Indian diplomats here for a visit.  He goes into a soliloquy about how much he loves India and would appreciate further cooperation with their government.

The twist: Biswal and Kumar are actually Americans, representing the departments of State and Commerce, confused and amused at the goings on.  Here's the video from foreignpolicy.com, and they have more of the story here.



Oh right, then see comedian John Oliver's take from Last Week Tonight on it here.  His words basically reflected my entire thought process while watching the video above.

Enjoy.


Thursday, July 3, 2014

The e-Sports Boy’s Club: Hearthstone, the IeSF and Gender Segregation

Blizzard's Hearthstone
I’m surprised at how long it takes for some companies to learn that the internet is a thing now, and that a good action should be executed before fan or customer backlash forces them to.  This is the case of the male-only championship policy of the International e-Sports Federation (IeSF), how it affected the actions of a Finnish qualifying tournament, and how the internet told them to knock that noise off.

Yesterday afternoon I read some disturbing details on the Hearthstone competition at the Finnish Assembly Summer 2014 eSports tournament coming up at the end of this month.

You had to have two things:

(1) Finnish citizenry
(2) A Y-chromosome

Yes you read that correctly – the Hearthstone tournament was classified as being for Finnish men only.  So all those ladies with their two X chromosomes were asked to hit the bricks.

The winner of this tournament would qualify for the IeSF World Championships later this fall, where they will be representing Finland in the contest.  So I get the part where you have to be a bona fide Finn to enter the digital ring here.  But why – why why why in seven hells weren’t women allowed to play?  It’s 2014, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out why.

PC Gamer, who picked up and later confirmed this information from a member of the Reddit Hearthstone community named Karuta, seemed to be wondering the same thing.  So they asked Markus Koskivirta, the head admin for the Assembly Summer 2014 Hearthstone Qualifier:

"Your information is indeed correct, the tournament is open to Finnish male players only.  In accordance with the International e-Sports Federation’s (IeSF) tournament regulations, since the main tournament event is open to male players only. This is to avoid possible conflicts (e.g. a female player eliminating a male player during RO8) among other things."

IeSF
Oh.  So that’s the issue.  The IeSF championships are men only.  So if a woman wins the Finnish tournament, then they wouldn’t be eligible to compete there.  Further, according to the IeSF’s site and Facebook event page, the IeSF even went as far as to have different games for different genders at the worlds.  Male competitors will be playing Hearthstone, Dota 2, Starcraft 2, and Ultra Street Fighter IV while the female competitors will be playing Starcraft 2 and Tekken Tag Tournament 2.  In this case, The organizers of Assembly Summer 2014 are doing it this way because of IeSF rules, and doing it under protest.

So to make it even worse, women were only to compete in 2 games at the championship level while the men’s division got 4.  And not only that, but while they will both be playing Starcraft 2, it won’t be together.

Naturally this caused some waves in the gaming community, as it damn well should. A number of users took the IeSF to task on their Facebook page, and received some answers explanations thinly sliced excuses for those asking questions.  Direct from their Facebook page:

"Let me elaborate a bit on the decision to create both male and female competitions. This decision serves two main goals of the IeSF: 
1 – promoting female players. We know that e-Sports is largely dominated by male players and females players are actually a portion of the overall player base. By hosting a female-only competition, we strive to promote female gaming on a global scale. 
2 – International standards. IeSF is very close to get e-Sports recognized as a true sports like it should be. Part of that efforts is to comply with the international sports regulations. For example, chess is also divided into male / female leagues.But, we want you to know that we listen to you, and appreciate your feedback! Our efforts does not clash with the community opinion – but on the contrary – we are here for the future of e-Sports and will do our best to promote it as best as we can.”

Ok.

As I tried to bend my head around it all I could come up with were different ways of saying WTF:

Why is an all-female gaming competition the only way one can come up with to highlight and promote female gaming on a global scale?  By making it a different thing, what’s being said is that it’s different than men’s gaming, and in this particular case, unequal as well.  If equality was a factor to the IeSF, then there wouldn’t be male and female brackets in their Starcraft 2 contests.  But there are, and that’s absolutely absurd.  The one and singular reason I was able to come up with was that maybe some female gamers would be more open to joining all-female tournaments due to the boy’s club that is e-sports as a whole and the very real sexual harassment that happens in the gaming community. A lot of these cases began coming to light (well, really coming into light publicly) a couple years ago.  We remember Aris Bakhtanians’ creepy-as-sin antics at CrossAssault and his defense that sexual harassment was “part of the culture.”  And we all remember the steady stream of misogyny and vitriol flowing Anna Sarkeesian’s way just by merely suggesting that the design of female video game characters fit lazy stereotypes and tropes.  Last year Starcraft 2 player Eve retired and deleted her social accounts due to sexual harassment.  So there may be a lot of points leading to a women’s division being a logical thing to make women feel more comfortable at events.  But it still feels wrong.

Then Ben Kuchera over at Polygon actually summed up my thoughts on that far more eloquently than I could: “The onus is on YOU to make every player feel welcome, safe and invited.  Segregating the genders is evidence that you have failed at that job, or simply don’t feel you’re up to the task.”  I can’t really put it any better than that.  Now instead, IeSF had decided to lean into that image and strengthen it further.
Are they trying to do something like weight classes like there are in grappling sports? Is it to make eSports the “true sport” it deserves to be?  Well luckily I have some experience in grappling sports, so allow me some words on the matter.


e-sports. real sports. not exactly the same, kids.
Here’s the thing about e-sports and (hell I’ll say it, someone should) real sports.  They’re different.  I’m into martial arts and have been so competitively in the past, where we’re divided by gender and weight class in competition.  The last time I competed (many moons ago) I fought heavyweight, meaning everyone i was matched up with was like me - men above 219 lbs.  Why?  Because that’s fair, and a fair contest is what it’s all about.  Making me square off against a lightweight weighing in at 130 is crazy, because the odds would be ridiculously stacked in my favor on size and weight.  The thing with games on the other hand, especially one like Hearthstone, is that it’s purely a mental exercise in strategy.  Hearthstone is just about strategy and fun, where a player gets out the effort they put in.  There’s no muscles or weight involved.  It’s mind vs mind.  A match between two opponents of equal skill would not favor one or the other due to physical prowess or strength.  So why can’t everyone compete in an open contest? It’s another message that men and women aren’t on the same level.

Well, with all the posts on the IeSF’s Facebook page and all the backlash on Twitter and Reddit and most social media and the internet at large, As of this morning (Friday July 3, 2014), the IeSF has reversed their position on a men-only championship.  In a release on their site today they publicly changed their tune:
On 2nd of July, 2014, the IeSF’s policy about gender division, which separates the female division and the male division, has been brought into question. The IeSF has listened to the gaming community and has carefully considered their opinions. Upon hearing these concerns, the IeSF convoked an emergency session of the IeSF Board to respond.As a result, IeSF shall have two event categories: “Open for All” events and events that are reserved for women. The events which were initially set aside as the male division will now be open to all genders, and the events which were initially set as the female division will remain as they were. 
The IeSF Board addressed its reason for maintaining events for women, citing the importance of providing female gamers with ample opportunities to compete in e-Sports—currently a male-dominated industry. Female gamers make up half of the world’s gaming population, but only a small percentage of e-Sports competitors are women. The IeSF’s female-only competitions aim to bring more diversity to competitive play by improving the representation of women at these events. Without efforts to improve representation, e-Sports can’t achieve true gender equality. 

Well damn.

Is it the ideal scenario?  No, not really.  I mean don’t get me wrong, I’m very pleased that the main championship is now open to all and that everyone has a chance to play for the title.  But it still classifies a women’s division as a separate entity from the main championship.  Arguments can be made for it along the same data I presented a little ways back up this page, but it’s a band-aid on a much deeper wound.

The problem is a culture that prevents everyone to feel safe and included as part of that culture.  While change – albeit very slow change – is happening, that culture has a long way to go for real intrinsic transformation into a self-policing community where everyone feels welcomed, and more importantly, safe.  And until that’s achieved, more and more of these band aids will have to be applied.  And while yes, they may stop the bleeding for a short time, the underlying cut will still remain.  I wish there were answers for an easy fix, but systemic change is anything but a speedy process.

While the IeSF made a change for the main championship, it took a great amount of internet backlash to do it.  The fact still remains that without input from the masses, they themselves thought a men only championship was a good idea.  So I’ll call this a good step in the right direction, but with a long way to go for the community.


Monday, April 21, 2014

PAX East 2014: Serious Games and This War of Mine


It’s not all about killing bad guys and saving the princess anymore.

When you take a look at media as a whole – books, comics, movies, games – and take a step back to see how they’ve evolved over time, you’d see a pretty interesting evolution.  Over the last few decades look at the changes that we’ve experienced – not only the ability to be immersed into graphically realistic depictions of different environments, but the type of ideas that they can convey to the reader, viewer and player.  Take the graphic novel as an example – once upon a time it wasn’t considered a medium that could convey serious thoughts, then came works like Art Spiegelman’s holocaust survivor story Maus and Joe Sacco’s journalist comic Palestine.  These are only two examples in a number of titles that are more than superheroes and traditional good versus evil.

Games have been a little bit slower to evolve on that front – there’s a field generally referred to as “serious games” out there but a lot of times that focuses on using the platform for interactive learning more than gaming in a traditional sense (… is there even a traditional sense of the word anymore?).  What I’m talking about here though is a little bit different. I’m talking about games that through the very story and gameplay put the player in a position to wrestle with difficult decisions and make them think about more than just what’s on the graphical surface.  Look at Papers Please, for example, a game where the player is an immigration official.  Your job as said official is to decide who is allowed and denied entry past your checkpoint based on information your supervisor has given you.  Simple enough right?  What do you do when a elderly couple can’t come through together because one’s papers are right while the other’s aren’t? Do you let them both through and face a violation that prevents you from feeding your own family?  How do you choose?  There’s a whole other side to the traditional “war games” we see that is represented here in the moral quandaries regular people are put into during hardship.

And that other side, inspired by Papers Please, is where we find This War of Mine.

When you play a lot of big studio titles on the topic of war, you’re going to find a lot of common themes.  First person shooters and real time strategy games are focused on peace through superior firepower.  These games all tell stories from the viewpoints of the commanders, or the soldiers themselves.  This War of Mine on the other hand focuses on everyone else that is still impacted by the conflict, exploring war with the focus shifted away from the soldiers and tanks, and onto the people suffering from the fallout, just trying to survive.

You begin in a besieged house with a group of survivors.  Because of snipers outside, you’re trapped where you are.  Immediately you have to salvage for anything in the house – spare parts, food, wood, medicine – anything that can be used to help your party survive.  These materials can be put together to provide needs for the house – beds for sleeping, drinking water, wound dressings.  At night you can leave the house to salvage at nearby locations to bring back more materials to use the next day.

In  addition to salvaging you also decide who sleeps (on or off a bed) and who stands guard.  The problem is that your backpack is extremely limited, and you have to prioritize what you bring back for the good of the party. Scavengers and guards don’t sleep.  If you haven’t made a way to prepare food then they go hungry, making it easier to get sick and need medicine.  All of the needs of the survivors must be juggled to survive.

Let me give you an example.  During the first night I sent one survivor to scavenge and brought back materials for making beds for proper sleep.  During the night, the house was attacked.  My guard was hurt and the other survivor fell sick.  I didn’t gather enough to be able to collect water for drinking or preparing food. OK, now what?

The next night I have the sick survivor sleep in bed while I send a scavenger out again.  I pick up enough materials to construct a water collector – but that doesn’t leave me enough for picking up medicine.  I made the decision to drop water filters for medicine.  Now she had medicine, but no one got food or water.  I now had 4 hungry and thirsty survivors. 1 was injured. 1 was sick and not getting better.  None of them were rested.  All of them hiding from snipers.  The following morning, my sick survivor succumbed to illness ad died.

All because I had to make a choice between medicine and clean water.

It was a difficult and dark experience to have to go through those kinds of decisions, even if the characters were virtual people on a screen.  And that was 3 days of virtual time (about 30 minutes real time) with me comfortable at a computer with a mouse and keyboard.  I was forced to think about the hell someone in that situation must be in somewhere in the world at this very second.

I got to speak with 11bit’s Pawel Miechowski about the game, who said that while the game has gotten huge positive feedback there’s also been some negative backlash, complaining that games can’t handle serious topics and are for entertainment only.  “I believe that games are perfect for talking about important things,” he says, “because they’re interactive.”  And I totally agree.  It’s the perfect vehicle for expressing thoughts and ideas, and this game forces the player to think.  “Imagine yourself in a city under siege, and your mother is dying of sickness.  How would you treat her?  Would you be willing to kill someone to steal antibiotics to save her?”

To drive the point home Pawel decided not to name the city the game takes place in, to remind people that “it could be your city, your country – it could happen anywhere.  And when it happens it doesn’t matter if you’re American, Indian, Polish, or Russian or whatever, because you’re a human being and you have the same needs.”

To those who say games are no place for tough topics, he says that as developers they feel that like movies, games have grown up.  And the same way directors now make movies about love and hate and deep topics more now than years ago, so too can depth be found in games like This War of Mine.  “It’s natural evolution.”

“Games are 30 years old, most of us have grew up with games and we treat them as a natural way of storytelling.”

Now for those with positive feedback about the game, Pawel did say that many survivors of conflict that are willing to help spread the word about the game, and are very supportive about it because it’s so important to talk about.  He made sure to mention by name former Marine Corpsman John Keyser, who through what he saw during his time in Fallujah became anti-war, and is serving to help Pawel with this game.

“I’d like to send my greetings to John and thank him for his help.”

With the countless number of games glorifying war, in my opinion this is a very important game that through its story reminds us that in war there are no winners.

This War of Mine is being developed for Windows, Mac and Linux and 11bit will have something sometime this year, with a mobile experience coming too.  As Pawel says though, “not a free to play ruined mobile experience with microtransactions.”  It’ll be a pay-once, get it all from A to Z premium experience. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

PAX East 2014: In-Depth with Blizzard


PAX East had a lot of great things to see all over the huge show floor at the Boston Convention Center – enough to confuse a person about which booths to hit first and which games to demo.  Luckily for me, we’re spoiled with shiny media badges, which gave us an extra hour before general admission to roam peacefully and make that decision.  As a dude that has played Warcraft and Diablo games for over a decade, I decided to hit up Blizzard first. Last year’s PAX East being their launch platform for Hearthstone, I was excited to see what they had in store for us this year - and as far as I’m concerned, they didn’t disappoint.  While Blizzard crew was still setting up the last of the demo stations, I settled in to try out World of Warcraft’s upcoming expansion, Warlords of Draenor, and their upcoming free-to-play mashup barn burner of a title, Heroes of the Storm

Warlords of Draenor @ PAX East 2014
World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor

Let me be straight here – what I played was definitely not a complete representation of the game.  The demo was limited, but I’m not going to hold that against them – they had an alpha build, and for those of you that have never worked in software or game testing, an alpha build is early earrrlllyy goins on.  So naturally I wasn’t expecting everything to be in final form.  That’s just how alphas go.  At least they were giving us what they got. The demo allowed players to see all the skins for all of the genders and races (including the updated Alliance models), but restricted player selection to Horde characters only.  It made sense to me really, since the first quest is literally speaking with Durotan in this tweaked timeline, and it wouldn’t exactly be a Gnome carrying that out now would it?  So I made a Blood Elf hunter (deviating from my Night Elven lineage), cranked him as brown as a Blood Elf can get and away I run.  The problem was that whenever I summoned a pet, debug windows came up instead of said pet, and I got good and killed in a sea of mobs despite my best efforts trying to close windows.  That’s ok though. The gameplay (at least as far as I can tell for hunters) is not drastically different at level 90 when you just start out.  BUT if big numbers jumping all over your screen is the life you're about then prepare to make an adjustment. We were equipped in character level 90 greens comparable to Mists of Pandaria endgame gear, but the numbers and damage I was doing was tremendously downsized.  With this expansion they've gotten away from the crazy exponential increase in stat values and damage, meaning I wasn't throwing out six-figure damage with my critical strikes like I'm used to seeing.  It doesn't mean that it takes that much longer to down enemies though - their HP is scaled to match your decreased stats.

Alliance Garrison
Thank the lords of Azeroth for that too.  Right now my hunter is walking around with half a million HP unbuffed, and I get 1000+ agility from just my bow.  My endgame bow in Wrath of the Lich King didn't even break 200.  The numbers now are just getting out of control and more or less have lost all meaning when my 140k DPS is the low number on Recount charts. The big change with Warlords  that everyone’s excited about (and with good reason) is the concept of the garrison – it’s like having your own little Warcraft III style homebase with peasants running back and forth gathering materials for you.  I wasn't allowed to take game footage pictures, but I got some screenshots from the press kit, and as more data is available I'll make sure to get that out to you kids.  I got in on the closed beta, so when I kick that off I'll have some real goods for you.

Heroes of the Storm Alpha Character Select
Heroes of the Storm 

Is there anyone that doesn’t love a good crossover?  How much fun did we have with Super Smash Brothers?  Kingdom Hearts saw Disney and Square-Enix collide.  The Marvel universe squared off against Capcom a number of times behind the controller, and even went head to head with DC Comics on the page before that.  And we love it.  There’s something about different universes coming together that is just pure meta appeal for the geek inside all of us. So what happens then when one company has enough isolated universes to do it within itself?  The answer is Heroes of the Storm – a crossover that pits the heroes (and villains) of the WarcraftStarcraft, and Diablo universes against each other in a good old-fashioned melee. Now you see the thing is this - upon first glance this looks like the MOBA style (multiplayer online battle arena) we’re used to seeing in League of Legends and DOTA.  Do not be fooled though, it’s not.  Well not completely.  I mean it does have the concept of lanes, and you have to take said lanes to crush your foes.  But you don’t have to do a million things to be successful or have fun.  It’s like they stripped out all the annoying parts of the MOBA genre (sorry MOBA fans) and… the only way I can put it really is that it combines that with some old Warcraft III charm, down to unit jokes.

Hero - Baby Murloc Murky
The heroes are split into different types - Warrior, Assassin, Support and Specialist, each bringing a different type of play style into the game.  One of the interesting new heroes they revealed under the Support style was Brightwing the Faerie Dragon.  She has the ability to not only heal but to blink from ally to ally throwing heals anywhere on the map.  With her other skills she can be a pretty complex hero to play.  Tyrael on the other hand is a Warrior class, primarily dealing damage with high defense, having a less complex play style.

... and then there's Murky.  Yes Murky the Murloc is a hero because as the developers put it, "we decided to make a hero that was awful" and one to consider the "Wile E Coyote" of the game.  Murky has almost no health and no attack, but lays an egg before charging in.  When he dies, in a few seconds he will just respawn from the egg - over and over again.  It was absolutely hilarious to see Murky use this method against Diablo and ultimately run him off with a Murloc army.  So how's that for varied play style?  Each hero has his or her own signature attacks to customize it that much further.

Arthas calling in an air strike from Sapphiron
As far as skins and upgrades are concerned, yes there are some for purchase, but there are also some that can be unlocked just by playing a particular hero a lot without a fee, including what they call "ultimate skins."  There's some humor in these too, like having the abomination Stitches in a bikini. I'll let that one sink in for a bit. I'll be looking forward to when I can get my hands on HotS for real.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Science, COSMOS, and that time I met Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Science is a funny thing.  There's been this traditional stereotype about scientists rolling through life with pocket protectors and slide rules, cloaked in a lab coat and hunched over their microscopes.  But over the last few years the subject has picked up a few more fans.  TV shows like Through the Wormhole hosted by Morgan Freeman and great programming on Science Channel and other educational outlets have started to help pull science into the mainstream, by making it more accessible to everyday people.  Even on the local level for me in Philadelphia I see big events like the Philadelphia Science Festival and can easily see the rise in interest this kind of accessibility can bring.

There's a few scientists that specialize in just that - you have guys like Bill Nye (the Science Guy, and the guy that taught me the art of the bow tie) that have spent their lives making sure that science was accessible and fun for kids, starting from his eponymous show in the 90's to his cemented place in today's geek culture.  In the same vein, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson has done the same thing - in addition to running the show at the Hayden Planetarium he's done the late night circuit many times, payed visits to Stephen Colbert on the Colbert Report, and even hangs out with Philadelphia's morning radio DJ's Preston and Steve on WMMR from time to time.  Oh he writes books too.

And unless you've been living in a geek vacuum over the last few months, you'll see he's now part of a project far more ambitious than guesting on the late night tour.  He's the host of a new series on FOX called COSMOS, premiering this weekend.  The show is a new take on Dr. Carl Sagan's classic series of lectures from the early 1980’s.  Dr. Tyson's teamed up with some serious names - Brannon Braga, Mitchell Cannold, and Ann Druyan - to make an updated version of our favorite televised class on space and time.

The best part was that I got to talk to them about it.

See back in October (yeah I know it was a ways back) I got to meet the COSMOS crew at New York Comic Con, and talk to them about the vision and the motivation behind the series re-launch.  The first round was with Cannold and Braga.  Braga described the project as a huge undertaking, with every episode tackling “some sort of massive subject matter” with a varied palette of special effects, live action, and even animated sequences.  While the show does feature original content, there will still be a number of homages to Carl Sagan’s original vision – for example fans of the original series will be happy to know that the Cosmic Calendar is still a mainstay in this new edition.

One of the more surprising topics discussed was the role of Seth MacFarlane (yes, the same Family Guy Seth MacFarlane) who is one of the driving forces behind the show. Cannold put the collaborative efforts best, and it might surprise those of you who classify MacFarlane with only animated comedy. “Don’t underestimate Seth MacFarlane - this man is a DaVinci.  Among other things, he happens to be a brilliant science geek.”  The team in fact turned down other studios first in favor of him as someone who could drive the process and execute while respecting the process. Cannold went on “he became our Godfather, champion, emissary at FOX and since then has made an enormous contribution.”  These contributions included introducing Braga to the crew, who brings scores of experience having written and produced for the Star Trek franchise since The Next Generation as well as other hits like 24.

Next up was Ann Druyan and the man himself, Dr. Tyson.  Druyan was the writer of the original COSMOS with Dr. Sagan (and wife of the good doctor as well).  Tyson started off describing Carl Sagan’s shoes as “awesome shoes to fill,” and how if he tried to fill them he’d just fail, following it up with “But I could be a really good version of myself.”  The series, according to him, isn’t just an “homage to Carl” but something people can follow him into the future by watching.  Druyan talked about how special it was working with Tyson, having known him for so long with Carl.  “It was not just that Neil has the science and the ability to connect, but it’s also true that Carl reached out to Neil when he was a 17 year old kid in the Bronx.”  And it’s true – Dr. Sagan took Tyson under his wing from an early age and he became very close with his family.  It was great hearing her speak about the project with such passion and love.

After talking about COSMOS I got to talk to Dr. Tyson about a bunch of random things like a scientific basis for astrology and science skewed by cognitive bias - he actually took the time well past the press event to shoot the breeze with me.  He is 100% the awesome science rockstar we all see on television, with a huge personality to match that sciencey mind of his.  While talking cognitive bias we got to the topic of dowsing rods – you know, using sticks to find water like I’m sure you’ve seen on TV.  He says to me, “If you give anyone a dowsing rod and tell them to find water, they will, pretty much 100% of the time.  And you know why?”  At this point he leans in a little closer to me and continues – “Because there’s water fucking everywhere!  It’s called the water table!”  Comedy and science – an excellent combination.

Fast forward a few months back to New York City and I’m at the American Museum of Natural History at the world premiere event of the show, which lived up to every promise that was made about it (as you can see, the line to get in was crazy long and speaks to Dr. Tyson's fanbase). The first episode introduced the cosmic calendar and the ship of the imagination, and let me tell you, Dr. Tyson is an absolute natural hosting and narrating this production.  The content, varying between special effects to live action film of Dr. Tyson to an animated short about Giordiano Bruno all blend exceptionally well together and make for not only education and information accessible to the masses, but a truly enjoyable program that brings science to the people.

Make sure you catch COSMOS: A Spacetime Odyssey, which premieres this Sunday night at 9pm on FOX.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

OMAHA: a study in football

"Omaha."

The phrase has been uttered countless times by Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning over his record breaking season this year.  When asked what Omaha meant, he explained to the press that it could be anything depending on a number of variables about the game that was being played at the time.  After the embarrassing end of the first half of tonight's Super Bowl against the Seattle Seahawks, it occurred to me that it was a word conspicuously absent from the first thirty minutes of play.  So since we have the wonder that is the internet, I decided to look up some numbers and see what was what in the postseason. A coincidence? Or something more?

I dunno kids... I'm just sayin' though


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Adult Swim @ NYCC: Venture Brothers, Robot Chicken, and... Emmett.


I had a great time at NYCC this year.  There was a bunch of stuff to see, some great cosplayers (which you can see in the IHOGeek Facebook galleries), and of course a good list of panels to check out.  On the latter I had the side-splitting pleasure of experiencing the Adult Swim treatment on Friday night, catching back to back panels from the Venture Brothers and Robot Chicken.  Two hours of Adult Swim personalities answering fan questions, cutting up and going nuts, and well, just hijinx in general.

… And you know how I feel about hijinx, kids.  Love 'em.


Starting with Queen’s “Princes of the Universe” hitting the speaker system, The Venture Brothers‘ Doc Hammer and Jackson Publick came out to the stage rocking black jumpsuits to a wall of pure sound from the audience.  After playing it up a little, they sat at the table and answered some fan questions.  It was a strange panel in the sense that there was no footage from the show like some of the other panels I attended, but it really wasn’t all that surprising.  Doc and Jackson let us know that they had just started working on the new season 6, and even though it was going to take a while that it is “going to be awesome” (don’t expect it until 2015).  SO i guess without any content to give you, I can at least give you some of the Q&A schtick that they put on -

On underwear: Jackson’s underwear costs $60 a pair.  Sixty.  and Doc rocks boxer briefs.  We’ll just have to take his word on that though – when chants to show the crowd came up he declared he couldn’t, because he has no ass.

On continuity: When asked whether continuity helps or hurts the show’s comedy.  Big surprise, it hurts.

On music: Doc doesn’t care who your favorite guitarist is – your favorite guitarist is Johnny Marr.

On giant robot cosplay: If you ask a question dressed as a giant robot, Doc Hammer will go into strike mode (as he appeared to do) and state his desire to jump across the table and knock you out.

Throughout the answers was of course the nutty behavior we expect from these two fancy lads, but it was their last act that got the biggest round of applause from the audience, myself included.  A young lady stepped up to the microphone and upon trying to speak, saw that she couldn’t find her words. “I’m too nervous to ask a question,” she said.  Without missing a step Doc Hammer comes back with “are you too nervous to DANCE with me?” and proceeded to dance with the young lady while the DJ played “Greased Lightning.”  And a grand time was had by all.  Check it out from Adult Swim here.

Next up was Robot Chicken. The whole crew was out in force – Seth Green, Matthew Senreich, Clare Grant, Breckin Meyer all clad in cat ears, including an unannounced appearance by Macauly Culkin, who is indeed, as it appeared to me, alive and well.  The crew made a couple of big announcements, the first being a sequel to the wildly popular DC Comics Special entitled DC Comics Special II: Villains in Paradise.  They showed some footage from the special, focusing on Batman’s embarrassment about being dragged around in Green Lantern’s green bubble.  A musical bromance ensues between the two, with Batman being floated along in a green sailboat construct.

Seth Green also talked about √úbermansion – a joint project between the Robot Chicken crew and Bryan Cranston, who is fresh off the heels of the success of Breaking Bad.  Cranston voices Titanium Rex, an elderly superhero who fights the day to day perils of, you know, being old sharing the mansion with this super-team.  It’s stop motion like Robot Chicken, and from the trailer we were shown the humor is unrefined, juvenile, and let’s face it kids, right up your alley.

There wasn’t much commentary on future Robot Chicken seasons, but they did announce their Born Again Virgin Christmas Special, which will air this December.

… Oh right.  Then there was Emmett.

Early in the panel a young lad by the name of Emmett got up to the microphone to ask a questions.  The panel addressed him as “the young man in the brown hat.”  After snarkily replying “first off, it’s a Borderlands hat, so…” he went on imply that by Seth Green taking on his series Dads that it could take away from the writing of Robot Chicken.  After some more sass and Green’s “I’ma point at you and yell” antics Breckin Meyer jumped in to Green’s defense – “Hey Seth’s working REALLY HARD!”  After that Emmett became a running gag for the entire panel, cracking me up more than any of the other antics the panelists had, aside from meth jokes at the expense of Macauly Culkin.  Afterwards, in response to a simple “Hi how are you?” from a fan, Breckin’s answer was “Well I was having a great day until I met this douchebag named Emmett.”  And this went on and on for the entire panel.  Please, do yourself a favor and watch the panel here.  Warning though – the panel features a moment between Seth Green and Doc Hammer’s nipple, who made an impromptu cameo.

Stay tuned for my next installment where I talk about that time i met Neil DeGrasse Tyson!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

User Agreements are Long and Boring, but Sometimes EULA Get Rewarded

You guys know I always try to have your back on the technical front.  Whether it's just some advice on new tech that's coming out, game previews, tech law or tips on keeping your digital life safeguarded, I like helping you out.  And today what I want to talk about a bit is a little thing you all know and love (ok maybe loathe) called the end user license agreement, or EULA for short.

Sometimes it comes titled as a basic user agreement or terms of use, but whatever it's called it usually follows the same format - a monstrosity of a document drafted in some strange melange of english and legalese filling anywhere between 3 and 30 screens for the user to scrutinize, read through and process in their impatient brainspaces.  You've all been there - for gamers there's a healthy sized EULA in a lot of games before you're allowed to play, especially in MMO's.  For the IT crowd there are all sorts of licensing agreements with operating systems and most off the shelf software, requiring you to agree before you can install them on your machine to use.

Of course you could always say you don't agree to the terms, but then that would hinder your gameplay or studious productivity.  But you don't say no, do you?  You've never said no.  You've never done anything but scroll alllll the way to the bottom, check "I agree" and hit OK to move on.  Trust me, you are not alone.  TONS of people go through the same motions.  The issue is that by doing so you miss all the rules and all the meat of the agreement between you and the publisher and probably don't even know what you agreed to.  It could be a rule you don't want to agree to but just did.  Or something that wouldn't normally strike you as obvious.  If you have certain Apple software they make you agree not to use their stuff for developing nuclear weapons.  A while back if you ran Safari for Windows, you may not be allowed to install it on Windows.  If you play Diablo III for example then what you agreed to was that you owed taxes to the IRS for any profits made on the real auction house.  OR - it'll make you feel like an idiot when you post ridiculous things to Facebook.  Yeah, seriously.  It's like signing a document without reading it.

I once didn't play World of Warcraft for a two days after install because of a EULA.  I read the whole thing roughly 4 times because I swore there was a clause in there that could be interpreted as not being allowed to play in a hotel room while I'm traveling. It worked out ok, but I still had to know.

So it made me super happy to see a little experiment that was being run on the forums over at Technical Illusions.  In case you're not aware about what TI is all about, they have an extremely cool device called the CastAR under development - a set of glasses that effectively and awesomely delivers an augmented reality environment to the wearer, complete with a wide array of controls and slick head tracking.  Their forums, much like many forums you can sign up for to use, includes a terms of use/EULA that all users have to agree to before they let you on and take part in forum discussions.  And to make it a little fun, they included the opportunity for reward if you actually had the patience to read all the way through.  The final text? Here it is:

"Any information you provide on these forums will not be disclosed to any third party without your complete consent, although the staff cannot be held liable for any hacking attempt in which your data is compromised. Congratulations you read this far, send the word Toby to jenesee at technical illusions dot com to be entered for a drawing By continuing with the sign up process you agree to the above rules by Technical Illusions"

I'll give you a second to read that last little section.  Even being at the very end of the agreement, how many people do you think would have sent "Toby" over to Jenesee out of the first 100 users?  Three.  That's right, three.  So as she mentions in her experiment data, the same percentage of users that caught the clause are the same as the percentage of people in America that still use dial-up.  Yikes.  In this case the consequences were a little more friendly - sometimes reading the EULA gave a user a chance for a fun reward rather than agreeing to something accidentally.  Congratulations to those three Technical Illusions forum users.

And I guess a kudos to the 3% of you that seemingly read your EULA's.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Back to School Stress for the Non-Student / Non-Parent [tf charts]

Ahhh fall.  A magical time where the temperatures drop, the leaves begin to turn those lovely shades of red and gold, and I along with others face a blinding white hot rage that consumes our being every morning on the way to work.

Anyone who lives in the Philly are and traverses I-95 southbound knows what I'm talking about.  Specifically around the bridge exits.  Summertime is a vacation for us too - from commuter students to local buses to the sheer additional traffic volume the fall brings.  Then there's the leftover construction from the jobs that started two summers ago, taking away lanes and closing exits - all things that cause me (and I'm sure you), to have to resort to increasingly awful acts of autobatics in response to others, all in all giving me pause and worry every morning that I am, in fact, becoming a worse and worse person every single day.

Thanks, PennDOT.

I know Philadelphia and I-95 aren't the only places - I feel your pain across the entire US of A, kids. Cities across the land where folks go to work already passing as part of the undead class before even clocking in, where seemingly no amount of caffeine can release us from the shackles.

ouch, my head...



Wednesday, September 4, 2013

PAX Prime Part 1: Intel and Square-Enix

Let me tell you, I was glad to get to Seattle a night early before the festivities of PAX 2013 started Friday morning.  After the flight from east coast to west it was weird (yes, weird) to see the Pacific Ocean on the weather map on the local news instead of the Atlantic hazing on the time difference but hey, I was there for PAX so it was cool.  The Penny Arcade Expo spanned the total volume of the Washington State Convention Center with exhibits, vendors and meeting rooms scattered not only throughout the place, but the nearby Sheraton for panels and another building across the street for BYOC gaming (yeah, that’s “bring your own computer”) and press.

Intel

The day picked up early – instead of taking advantage of media getting an hour early access to the floor, I opted to go across the street and check out Intel’s press event showing off some gaming laptops and mobile devices from partners that were packing Intel parts.  The Razer Blade we’ve already seen, but this was the first time I got to get my hands on its rival from MSI, the GS70.  The GS70 has all the bells and whistles of a gaming machine at 17 – nVidia graphics, the latest i7 inside, 16GB memory and huge storage space – but weighs less than 6 pounds with its ultralight aluminum chassis.  Before i got to play with it i picked it up and kind of moved it around in the air (under the watchful eye of the Intel folks) and can tell you the weight’s no joke.  And they had it running Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, which looked all sorts of candy-like delicious.  The chips inside ran with Intel’s Iris graphics built in, which are reported to support 4K Ultra HD (on up to three screens) and much quicker video editing and processing than the 3rd generation i-core chips that came before.  I can’t really vouch for how well my eyes can tell that precisely, but they can tell that the screens looked pretty damn good.

They were also showing off their Next Unit of Computing (NUC) devices – tiny little boxes (as you can see from the image) that pack some power and seemed to have grown since I saw them at PAX East earlier this year.  Instead of Ivy Bridges, the guts of these units were running i3 and i5 Haswell core chips (with turbo) and Intel HD graphics 5000, which isn’t bad for starting at $400.  The outside featured network, USB 3.0, HDMI and DisplayPorts.  So what did they do after showing us the specs on these units?  We got to game on them.  There were a few stations there that were driven by a NUC stuck to the back of the monitor, that still provided a high-grade gaming experience that I would expect from a desktop build.  They mentioned that they were going to release a Pro edition, which we’ll keep an eye out for.  To be honest I’d consider using these in the enterprise too in pro mode. On a personal note, what was probably the nicest part of the Intel show had nothing to do with going over specs or gaming on their ultrabooks – it was the business card raffle from which I won an i7 4770K processor.  So guess what kids? It’s build time.

Square-Enix

S-E had a decent amount of stuff lined up for PAX goers – I didn’t check out all of them because there were a couple reruns from PAX East but there were still some things worth seeing.  First and foremost we know they’re big on remakes and remasters, so there’s no surprise thatKingdom Hearts 1.5 HD RemixFinal Fantasy X/X-2 Remaster and Deus Ex: Human Revolution – Director’s Cut all made appearances at their booth.  KH 1.5 and Deus Ex were reruns from PAX East, so I started by taking a look at the remasters of Final Fantasy X/X-2.  The gameplay graphics are definitely sharper and a cut above how they looked on the PS2, when back then they were amazing.  The CG cutscenes also looked pretty good, but not as much of an improvement from S-E’s PS2 edition of the game.  Otherwise, I heard mumblings of rumors that the remaster would be delayed from this year to next.  While it makes sense, I’m not going to say it’s true since I didn’t hear it straight from Square-Enix.

The other game I was glad to finally get my hands on was Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns.  Having played the first and second one through, the series kind of grew on me, and Lighting became one of my favorite Final Fantasy characters of all time.  I knew the gameplay on this one was going to be a little bit different than the previous games in the XIIIuniverse, and did like what I saw.  Lightning is a solo player (at least in the demo) and the overworld work that has to be done is more than just walking around and only being able to jump where there’s a flashy spot on the ground.  The demo featured a slice of the game where you have to chase Snow down, of course learning the mechanics of the game on the way.  Similar to paradigm shifts Lightning can switch between classes on the fly to unleash a broad range of attacks.  These classes each have a different orientation – in the case of this demo it was defense/life, attack power and magic.  It almost reminded me of the dress spheres in Final Fantasy X-2, just done a lot better in the combat style of the XIII universe.  Staggering your opponents changes a little bit, but the core concept is similar.  I for one enjoyed it, and as I am a glutton for completion, will definitely be picking it up to close out the trilogy.

They also showed some trailers for ThiefFinal Fantasy XV and the Kingdom Hearts 1.5/2.5 HD Remixes in the theater section they had set up.  I’m going to link you the one for Final Fantasy XV.  It’s a rerun from E3, but boy is it delicious.

As for Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn, S-E seemed have a good (maybe?) problem, actually suffering downtime because they weren’t expecting as many western players as they have.  Director Naoki Yoshida admitted this freely, that he thought players would let others giveFFXIV:ARR  a try first before jumping in.  The server loads were supposedly spread out properly as of today, and more importantly to some, the restriction on YouTube playthroughs and videos has been lifted.  Other than that, new updates will bring more Primal fights, the Gold Saucer in-game (once they get three mini games to kick it off, woot!), and maybe some new jobs and classes.  On that as far as class mounts go for the hopeful, not much more information has been revealed  - but if you want a unicorn, roll a conjurer.

Stay tuned for the next segment tomorrow featuring my faves from the Indie Megabooth and a gameplay review of Dying Light.  Also later in this series will be the 2K roundup featuring X-COM and Borderlands 2, as well as my pick of the litter for the best of PAX 2013.