Saturday, April 19, 2008

videogames: prior to GTA IV

Here are the "explore world" games I've traveled through while waiting for Grand Theft Auto IV.
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories
The first backport from the PSP to the PS2. It has slightly better gameplay than its parent GTA III but is far from the gargantuan mind-bending achievement of GTA: San Andreas. It's one of the weaker story lines, and the music selection isn't very good. However, the DJ dialog and commercials are the best of all GTA games! Someone transcribed a bunch on wikiquote.org; Reni, the transsexual DJ on Flashback FM, is brilliant, his/her lines include:
"Music is life and we snort it until we O.D., again und again"
"At least in the 80s they could play their instruments and there were two ambiguously gay men beating a synthesizer who were up for a go"
"I'm having a flashback... from when I was a man! I still look good in a tie. Now it's ties and titties! These tunes are enough to make me fertile again! I can impregnate myself! That's a talent, no?"
Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories
One of the best features of the GTA games is the weather and lighting that puts you in the environment, culminating in San Andreas where every region feels exactly right: foggy San Fierro, smoggy Los Santos, hot bright Las Venturas. But the 80s pastel colors in GTA:VCS are so over the top that it's phony. And the storyline with the loser army AWOL whining at his coked-out brother has little emotional punch. On the upside, the map shows you attempted jumps and rampages, and the business takeovers are an interesting gameplay develoment. Launching an Infernus off a ramp straight into a palm tree for a triple insane stunt bonus never gets old. And Reni Wassulmaier appears as a bisexual studio head!
An interesting variation, you're a 15 year old juvenile delinquent trying to patch things up at school by beating up all the cliques, recovering your health by kissing girls. It's a fantasy of school hijinks with a fine storyline and good characters, but it's let down by glitches: the load time every time you go in or out of a building is awful, and you can get stuck in places.
Scarface: The World is Yours
This isn't by Rockstar, it's from Radical Games who made the pleasant Simpsons Hit and Run. I've never seen the movie Scarface (I don't like violent movies, too realistic!) but the game is not bad. It has several improvements on GTA:
  • You have some funny scripted encounters with pedestrians
  • It's a challenge to intimidate people.
  • The "balls" mode where you go into a blood-hazed frenzy is nice.
  • The mechanism of loading up just a few weapons from the trunk of your car is much more realistic than GTA's "machete, revolver, shotgun, machine gun, and rocket launcher" all at once.
  • Best of all, making a profitable drug run is appropriately complex and rewarding: meet a supplier, fly to the islands, intimidate for a good deal, pilot a boat back, then a wild balls-to-the-wall ride all over the islands trying to distribute it to your fronts as other gangs and the police get increasingly crazy.
But it's somehow a shallow world. Two examples: there's absolutely no fun in driving around to explore with the radio on; you have a huge mansion that you can equip with lots of no-class drug lord knickknacks, but there are no surprises or interesting interactivity in it, unlike the videogames in GTA:SA and Bully.
All these games I played through to 100%, completist that I am.

I dipped a toe in the waters of two other non-Rockstar games by renting them, but passed on both of them:
Destroy All Humans 2
Oh dear. It could be great, an alien flying around 60s San Francisco and London with crazy weapons, psychokinetic powers, and the ability to take over other bodies. But the dialog is deathly dull, and even more so than Scarface, the world feels like a cardboard set. Even though you have a flying saucer you can't jump into a single area where you don't belong. And watching the cut scenes with the laconic alien ... speaking ... his ... lines becomes painful only 4 hours into the game.
The Godfather
Another movie I've never seen (don't people know that violent movies rot your brain?!), another game studio (big bad Electronic Arts) attempting to make a GTA competitor. This has its moments. You feel you're on a movie set of New York and the voice acting is pretty good. I might yet buy it, my hesitation is reviews said that the missions become very repetitive.
Rockstar's San Andreas is a giant compared to any of these games. These recent Rockstar games are all obviously filler while they labored over GTA IV, yet even Rockstar's lesser efforts are enjoyable efforts. It's nice to see other game studios coming close. Meanwhile, I've only 10 days to buy a TV, a surround system, a PS3, and umpteen cables, to play GTA IV. It's already scoring perfect game ratings. Rockstar have made the Birth of a Nation of videogames with Grand Theft Auto:III, the Gone with the Wind of videogames with GTA:VC and the Citizen Kane of videogames with GTA:SA. I believe the hype!

Labels: , ,

Monday, April 7, 2008

computers: old storage media

Remember 3.5" floppies? Here are 90 of them, free for the taking.
90 3.5" floppies plus a 5.25" floppy and a 2GB microSD card
Ignore the “2.0 MB” label, these actually store about 1.44 MB. So that stack represents all of 132 MB, or less than a fifth of a CD-ROM. I remember when these first came out for the Mac and cost $10 each.

Those floppies are junk, you can't even give them away. I consolidated the information from them to a few MB on a network drive. Many were backup and transit disks (so-called "sneakernet") with only slight differences between directories and files. I couldn't find a good tool to help me consolidate them. I wanted a split view explorer that would show floppy details (including bootable or not, DOS version, hidden files, etc.) in one pane and in the other pane intelligently search a hard drive for likely matching files and directories. Probably a DOS version of such a tool was on one of the floppies!

Several of them are installation disks for nifty integrated phone answering machine +FAX software like Ring Zero and QuickLink that came with modems. Back then the mental stumbling block was “Your computer can be your telephone,” just as now the stumbling block is “Your computer can be your TV.”

The disk in the IBM sleeve on the left is a 5.25" floppy from 1983 or so that stores 360KB. I have several dozen of those I still need to archive. I also have an 8" floppy with some documents I made on an IBM Displaywriter, plus a 3.5" magneto-optical disk, a Jaz disk, and a Sun 1/4-inch cartridge. Compared with the 80s and 90s, we are in a period of incredible media stability.

Labels: ,

computers: relentless storage progress

Here's the picture from my old storage media post.
90 3.5" floppies plus a 5.25" floppy and a 2GB microSD card
That speck on top is a 2GB microSD memory card for my phone.

close-up of 2GB microSD cardIt holds 1,360 of these floppies, or a stack 15 times taller (4.5 meters—14 feet tall!). Or 5,555 times more than the 5.25" “IBM” floppy in the picture.

When you just switch letter prefixes around you lose sight that 2 gigabytes is an insane number. It's roughly 2000× a megabyte, 2000000× a kilobyte. 2,000,000,000 characters! If you write pure ASCII text, you could never, ever fill it up. But of course the computer industry finds a way to inflate simple sequences of letters. The text of my post on old floppies was only 1,647 characters; Blogger turned into a 16,000 byte web page; it's 100,000 bytes including the two images; it would have been 4,200,000 bytes if I had used the original photos instead of resizing them for the Web. If I had made this a presentation in evil Microsoft PowerPoint it could easily be 1,000,000 bytes. If I had made a video zooming in from the pile of floppies to show just the memory card, it would have hit 100,000,000 bytes. But it wouldn't be 10,000 times more information.

Labels: ,