August 2013


During the summer Steam sale, I figured I’d buy one medium-priced game– either Bioshock Infinite or Remember Me. Both apparently feature mind-benders–multiple worlds and modifying memories, respectively. But BI sounded like most of it was a repetitive shooter, while RM has parkour. So Remember Me it was.

So far it’s awesome. With frustrating bits.

Neo-Paris in the spring

Neo-Paris in the spring

It’s kind of tacky when reviewers do this, but still: RM is like the parkour from Mirror’s Edge plus the melee combat from Arkham City, plus the futuristic weirdness of Deus Ex.

You get various new abilities as you go, and unlike most games, RM actually explains this: you are a “memory hunter”, a criminal who steals memories, and you’ve been caught and memory-wiped.  Only it didn’t entirely take, so you keep getting back some of your former abilities.  It’s a nice way of making your character powerful, yet have a reason to have everything explained to her.

The combat feels like Arkham City even when it’s not: face an enemy to hit, RMB to block, evade a lot, build combos.  (You evade with regular movement or by jumping, which I have to adjust to.)  The clever bit is that you can architect what the combos do– e.g. you can have one focused on takedowns, one for regaining health, one for reducing the cooldown on your more devastating superpowers.

The parkour is a little more directed than Mirror’s Edge— which is frustrating sometimes, as it’d be fun to make your own paths.  No zip lines, though.  (There are some optional (but strongly recommended) upgrades you can get by exploring just a bit though.)  The moves themselves don’t require precise timing, but there are various environmental puzzles (e.g. part of the path may be intermittently electrified).

The game depicts a society where memories can be extracted, lost, bought and sold, and stolen.  The heroine, Nilan, has a further superpower: she can change people’s memories.  When this happens, you basically get a replay of their memory, and you can go back and forth looking for details to change, which will change how the scene plays out.  It’s pretty neat, though you don’t get to use it much.

Savvy Neo-Paris tourists get around by hanging on walkways

Savvy Neo-Paris tourists get around by hanging on walkways

It’s also really gorgeous, in its dystopian way.  I take screenshots all over just because it’s full of fascinating vistas.  I wish it allowed more interactive exploration, in fact… there are some great little details, like a typical apartment of the year 2084, or a bustling market, or the red-light district featuring sexbots, but most of the spaces are somewhat dead.  You can’t buy anything at the stores or talk to the androids or check out the TVs.

There are some frustrating bits.  There’s a fight with invisible enemies that’s pretty horrible, plus I keep jumping off ledges only to have Nilan climb down them instead (I think this one is a matter of using Mirror’s Edge reflexes… Remember Me wants you to hit space just a moment earlier).  There’s a couple places where the autosave is too far back.  (On the other hand, it looks like there are a couple autosave points per boss fight, which is a huge relief.)

Anyway, it’s really quite distinctive, and it’s keeping me up way too late.

Edit: Later thoughts: Next, even more, final.

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Robert Steibel has a great post inaugurating a blog which will apparently be all about Jack Kirby.  There’s a little too much for my taste about the man himself, but he really gets rolling when he analyzes a page of The Mighty Thor #147.

kirby-pencil

What we’re looking at here: this is a rare look at Kirby’s actual pencils… and his writing.  He and Stan Lee would discuss the book, then Kirby would plot, draw, and essentially write it– the marginal notes on the left are his hints to Lee on what’s happening in the panel.  Lee then wrote the florid text to fit what Kirby had already done.

Then Vince Colletta (in this case at least) inked the page.  This is what fans actually saw:

kirby-inked

The inking is faithful, but loses a certain appealing sketchy quality to the pencils.  (We also, as Steibel points out, lose the little dude to the right of Sif.)  The coloring is pretty awful… what is going on with Balder’s cape?

Steibel gives Stan Lee a pretty hard time, but it’s unfair to compare Kirby’s informal notes with Lee’s finished prose.  Still, the method probably inevitably resulted in overdoing the prose… Stan was not someone to let the art speak for itself.

Kirby maybe gets a little too much adulation… he doesn’t approach the inventiveness of the European masters (Moebius, Bilal, Bourgeon,
Schuiten….).  But he’s kind of the Saints Row of comics: his stuff is big dumb fun– huge muscled heroes and villains, outrageous situations, over-the-top theatricality, absurd and inscrutable machinery, but always fun and accessible.

Part of it is that he was a fantastic draughtsman… Loki’s pose above is convincing as well as convoluted.  (Though that particular pose does raise the question, wearing those tight shorts, where does Loki hide his junk?)

It takes an assured artist to just throw in a horse in the background because he felt like it, to say nothing of the architectural elements… they don’t make any sense really, but they don’t need to– they’re supposed to be an otherworldly realm anyway.

See the post for the rest of the page…

Today I got through Axel Shuessler’s Chinese dictionary, so I have a load of Chinese etymologies for the Conlanger’s Lexipedia.

The general procedure was admirably arcane:

  1. Look up the English word in the English-Chinese dictionary– say,  ‘friend’, which is péngyǒu 朋友.
  2. Find péng in the Chinese-English dictionary.  Um, what was the radical again?  Oh, ‘flesh’.  OK, there it is; it means ‘friend, acquaintance, companion.’
  3. Look up yǒu… er, what was the character again?  Dunno what the radical is, but that looks like 女 in the lower half, that’s easy to look for.  OK, it means ‘friend.’
  4. So the derivation of péngyǒu is ‘friend-friend’?  Ha, no, this is yet another case of Mandarin zeroing in on a meaning, amid its host of homophones, by giving two closely related words.  This is where Schuessler comes to the rescue.  Look up both words– fortunately these are some of the few that don’t have different traditional forms.
  5. Here’s   朋– the original meaning is ‘pair, set of two’, and he helpfully explains that this led to the meaning ‘friend’ (you and your friend make a pair).
  6. And here’s 友– ‘be friendly’, but listed alongside words meaning ‘aid’ and ‘(on) the right’– a friend is your right-hand-man.

(Note… if you were chuckling because is really ‘moon’ not ‘flesh’… the joke’s on you, 朋 is actually neither– Karlgren says it’s a picture of a bird’s wing.  To look up words you only need to recognize the radicals, not name them… I still think of ⾣ as ‘π in a box’.)

So in this case we’ve got two interesting etymologies for the price of one.  Often enough a word is missing from Schuessler, or matches an Indo-European etymology I already have, or doesn’t have any meaning change– e.g. the word for ‘wine’ is 酒 Jiǔ whose earliest meaning is… ‘wine’.

Chinese is like an old hoarder’s apartment: nothing is ever really thrown out.  So a given character may have half a dozen meanings; the earliest meaning (which Schuessler gives) is usually not evident.  Even more fun is when a different original meaning can be teased out from Sino-Tibetan.  E.g. Chinese words meaning ‘pleasant’, ‘glad’, ‘relax’, and ‘rob’ are all related to a Sino-Tibetan root meaning ‘loosen, relax’.

So, what’s next?  I’m still adding etymologies; the next step will be to put all the text together, convert it to 6″ x 9″, and get all the formatting right.  After that I’ll be ready to ask for some readers to see if I actually have something useful and readable.

This page– “Forty maps that explain the world“– is rather grandiosely named, though any map addict should find plenty of interest there. But this map is a real stunner.

(WordPress makes a hash of it, so click here.)

I could look at that for hours. I’ve seen maps based on satellite images, but it’s the animation that really makes it.

Wow, this was a ripoff. I love Tomb Raider, but the Tomb of the Adventurer DLC is just one frigging tomb, no bigger and less exciting than any of the optional tombs in the game.

Lara despoils another site. Her degree must be an MBA

Lara despoils another site. Her degree must be an MBA

It’ll take you half an hour or less, plus there’s a nasty glitch in it. It really feels like an exploitation of the fans’ goodwill, even at Steam Summer Sale prices.

(If you disregard my advice and buy it, and find a spot where you can’t advance: exit the cave, save at a campfire, and exit the game. The glitch does go away when you re-load.)

I just finished Tom Francis’s Gunpoint, a game so indie that Tom basically made it himself in the last three years, but which my friend Chris really liked.  Only Chris is friends with Tom, so maybe he’s lying.

No, it really is a good game. You may have seen screenshots, or a demo.  It looks like this.  My character is in the middle of the picture, in the trenchcoat, all of 35 pixels high.

So much to rewire

So much to rewire

I worried that the art might seem horribly retro, but actually it makes sense, because it’s a puzzle game, you see, and you need to see the whole building you’re dealing with.

You are a freelance spy.  In the game, I mean– I don’t know what you do in real life.  You witness a murder, and this involves you in a series of missions, all of which involve infiltrating a building and stealing or hacking something deep inside.

The neat bit is that Tom has come up with a truly novel and fun game mechanic.  You can rewire the building’s electronics systems, in insane ways.  Anything on a circuit can be wired to anything else, so you can have switches open doors, motion detectors turn off lights, and elevator panels open trapdoors.

Same building in detective vision

Same building in detective vision

You use these tools to get past guards, get them walking, trap them, give them shocks, etc., as well as gain access to new areas.  The buildings get more complex as you go, and you get even more toys to play with.  It’s fun to think through the puzzles, though I couldn’t get a few of the optional objectives.  Guards can one-shot you, so you really do not want to mess with them directly.  (At the same time, one of the really clever bits of the game is that you can use the guards as part of the Rube Goldberg mechanisms you create to get through the building.)

If you screw up, you’re offered the chance to reload an autosave from several seconds ago, which is almost always enough to undo whatever didn’t work and try something else.

There is a story that goes with all this, told mostly in phone calls with your clients.  You can ask pointed questions or make wisecracks during the call, though the conversation trees have a way of proceeding relentlessly either way.  However, you actually do have to make some choices along the way– basically, who you side with.  (By making a certain choice, I lost the opportunity to do one mission. I assume there’s a compensatory one, but I’m not sure.)

A couple of minor complaints:

  • You can scroll the view with the arrow keys, but switching to hacking mode will move it, and occasionally the arrow keys don’t work…. this is annoying because 80% of the time (that is, until the last few large maps), you want the damn building centered and stable, and it won’t stay that way.
  • The ending is… abrupt.  There’s a whole subplot with the chief of police that doesn’t seem to go anywhere.  Plus I went through the final level in the only way I could figure out, which was violently.  The story wrap-up was, well, nonexistent, so I have no idea if that was a good idea, or if there was an alternative, or what happened next, or why my character didn’t end up in jail.

The game took me about six hours, which is probably about right for the price.    It reminds me a lot of Portal 1– not that it feels similar to play, but it’s the same combination of a fun and new game mechanic with an often amusing story to link the puzzles together.

—-

Oh, and you may recall I said I was replaying Dishonored.  I finished that, and I have to say I enjoyed the second playthrough much more than the first.  I went low-chaos throughout, trying to find every damn rune and bone charm and choking every last guard.  I also have to unsay my comment that Corvo was foolish to drink a toast to himself– he actually drinks a toast to Emily.  (Or perhaps they patched this?)

(The very last mission is annoying, though.  So damn many guards in that fort.  I actually used up all of my mana potions, mostly with Possession.)

Somehow, choking a shitload of guards ended the rat plague

Somehow, choking a shitload of guards ended the rat plague

Last time I’d played “low chaos but kill the targets”, so finding the nonlethal ways through the missions involved some new material.  I do think Dunwall is fun to explore, far more fun than fighting through it– though it’s been established that it’s such a nasty place that I’m not convinced that placing an eleven-year-old on the throne will greatly improve it.  For Dishonored 2, we have to ask, could the city get any worse?  Never doubt it!  I mean, I’m sure they’ll come up with something, but it’s hard to feel that the place is worth saving.