October 2015


So, after a mere 4 months, I can play Arkham Knight. I had to upgrade the power supply and graphics card for my computer even to start the game.  (I have an AMD Radeon R9 380 now.)  Then, even with the re-release, I could start the story, and then the game would hang and crash as soon as I tried the grapple hook.  This seems to be a common unfixed problem for people with AMD cards.

Gotta admit it's pretty

Gotta admit it’s pretty

I found a fix that works for me, crazy as it sounds:

  1. Open the AMD Catalyst Control Center.
  2. Select My Digital Flat Panels.
  3. Turn on “Enable virtual super resolution”.
  4. Select Desktop Management, then Desktop Properties.
  5. Select 2560 x 1440 resolution.  Exit the app.
  6. Now run Arkham Knight, and change the resolution to 2560×1440.

Weirdly, turning down the resolution, even as low as possible, didn’t fix it, but turning it up to a higher resolution than the monitor actually supports does.

Anyway, so I can play now.  I’m about six hours in; I’ll have more of a review later.  It’s very pretty, and it’s fun as usual to beat up thugs and flit among the high points.

The biggest new thing is the Batmobile. I’m undecided on this.  The Batmobile sections feel a little like Grand Theft Auto, which is a weird stylistic shift: you can knock into things, smash down streetlights, make the pedestrian thugs run for cover.  And blow up tanks and planes, which we are helpfully informed are unmanned drones, but it’s still a bit weird for Batman to be shooting up the place.

Plus I miss Catwoman.  I understand she turns up later, so judgment reserved.  I played the short Harley Quinn challenge– kind of fun, but I dislike the way the game makes its low opinion of Harley known.

We actually get to meet and see Oracle this game.  What’s more baffling is that even as the situation escalates into a paramilitary uprising, Batman refuses to let Nightwing help.  Dude has issues.

Edit: What also has issues, still, is the game.  It crashed about four times tonight, in as many hours.

Plus… there’s a lot of annoying bits.  Riddler’s Batmobile challenges are really fiddly, and force you to replay long swatches if you fail them. Batmobile chases are about as horrid as GTAIV chases.  It’s dispiriting that the plot can’t think of what to do with its female characters except to kidnap them. Plus, I dunno, does Bats have to be such a complete dick to his helpers?  Arkham City’s Batman had a hint of a dry sense of humor, at least.

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We are not on fire any more.  Here, from the Tribune, is a picture of the fire:

fire

See the building on the far left, past the tree, that looks like it’s a few feet from the burning building? That’s our building. I’m thankful that it didn’t go up as well, but it is damaged. The roof partially melted and has to be replaced. The basement got three feet of water, which means the boiler and hot water heater were damaged (and the stuff I had in the basement is probably ruined). The firefighters bust in all the doors. There’s no power or gas.

On the plus side, things are happening already. They sealed all the doors, removed the carpets, and drained the basement. I heard that the city is going to demolish the ruined building. It’s fenced off, but it’s what lawyers call an attractive nuisance: a dangerous thing that curious not-very-smart people would love to explore. And it’s right next door to a school. Plus it still has three-story brick walls that could collapse, which is another reason our building isn’t yet habitable, so the sooner it goes the better.

(Edit:) Along the street near our building there are little piles of ash and charcoal. There’s also little spots of ash on my jacket that didn’t come off int he wash…

Lots of little things going on: talking to our landlord and to our insurance company, making some trips to pick up essentials, cleaning out the fridge so life does not evolve there while we’re away. I managed to track down and receive an important package: the proof copy of my book. Trying to get used to sleeping hours more like those of normal people.

We’re staying with some very sweet friends of ours. Hopefully we’ll be pleasant enough guests that we can stay till we can move back to our place. We’re still a little stressed out, but basically OK.

No, not to my actual apartment.  Burned structure next door that could collapse; no gas or power; basement flooded.  But I was able to go back to rescue the PC, so I can write a review of the last game I played, Gone Home.

Maybe the next drawer will have a wicked laser rifle

Maybe the next drawer will have a wicked laser rifle

Let’s get this bit over with quickly: Gone Home is not a shooter. It’s also not a platformer, not a MOBA, not a puzzle game, not a simulator, not an RPG. It can loosely be called a point-and-click adventure game. It’s mostly an unusual vehicle for telling a story, a story about a single family.

The setup is that you are Katie, a college-age woman returning to her family home in Oregon after a year’s trip to Europe. Only it’s a new home (the family moved while you were away), and nobody’s home. There are no overt quests, but figuring out why no one’s home is part of the game.

The game mechanic is that you move around the house, finding documents and objects that tell the story of the family and the house. You can pick up many things and examine them; other things are short documents to read; a few trigger voiced memories (though, thankfully, you are not prevented from doing other things while these play). The main story has to do with your younger sister Sam. I think the story is best experienced in-game, so I won’t describe it further, except to mention that part of the theme is that being a teenager sucks. It has awesome parts but the sucky bits seem to be in a conspiracy to prevent them.

Does it work? I think so, though I like attempts to do new things in games. The main story is interesting, though not earth-shattering. In some ways the half-stories you get about other characters are more intriguing. Dad and Mom have their own stories and problems, plus there may be a ghost.

The setup of exploring your own family’s home is clever. As Katie, you’ll see references to yourself, or have reactions to certain items; and then there’s your own room– completely packed up in boxes. They didn’t even make the bed for you.

The mechanic is nicely done. You can move, crouch to get a better look at things lower down, and interact with a wide variety of things. You can decide which rooms to check first and what to look at, though obviously you’ll only experience the story if you pretty much look at everything. (It’s surprising the family keeps as many secrets from each other as it does, given everyone’s propensity for dropping revealing documents all over the house.) There are some minor puzzles to solve that unlock parts of the house; on the meta level these are really there to enforce some order to the story.

Overall it’s much like Sunset, though I think many things are better handled here. More things are interactive; you aren’t locked in place while you read Sam’s journal; they just don’t have you do things they don’t have the animation budget for. Plus it’s far shorter, so the wander-and-touch-things mechanic doesn’t wear out its welcome. Also, I think the limited venue is more of a virtue in Gone Home. On the other hand, Sunset at least made a model of the player character, so you don’t entirely feel like a disembodied being, and it offered alternative actions.

It has a neat mechanic that I’d like to see in other games, such as Bethesda’s: when you’re holding an object there’s a “Put back” action so you can place it where it came from rather than dropping it on the floor.

Just a few things to criticize. One, I think the story cried out for a “Two years later…” endcard. I guess I’d say that the story provides an emotional closure, but not a practical one. The final events would have produced more repercussions that we don’t get to see.

Second, we learn a bit about Katie, but not enough, I think. I’m not sure we even learn her major. Maybe this is a vestige of the notion that PCs ought to be underdetermined, so we can identify with them. But very precise PCs work great; we’re not bothered if we can’t mold our own Lara Croft. They’ve already provided Katie with a face, a voice, a close relationship with her sister; it would have been nice to get to know her at least as well as we know the parents.

Finally, and related to the last two points: Katie can’t influence the story in any way. Which isn’t essential for a game, but for a very intimate story like this, it feels like a lack. (If they didn’t want to get into Katie getting involved in the denouement, there’s at least one relevant action she could take: hide certain documents from the parents!)

Will you like it? If you only like shooters, no. If you like point-and-click adventure games, maybe, but be aware that it’s not a puzzle-solving game and there are no real choices to make. Also, it’s short (it took me two hours) and the list price is $20, which is maybe steep; I got it on sale. But it’s different, and well put together.

So, last night my home almost burned down.

What did burn down was the apartment building next door. My wife smelled smoke, I went outside to check, and omigod there were flames coming out of the windows.

We had to get out quickly, with just the clothes we were wearing.  I went back in to get my wallet and this computer.  (Nerdy?  It has my life work on it.  Also my writing career.)

We hung around on the street a bit watching and trying to judge if our building was going to catch the fire. If you’re wondering what this is like, it’s helpless and terrifying.  The fire seemed to get even worse– it was down to the second of three floors.  The fire department was there, we couldn’t even get near our building.  It was raining, but a huge fire is only mildly daunted by that. They put up a huge crane and poured water on the burning building.  From another vantage point we could see more hoses; sometimes they sprayed our building to keep it wet.

There was nothing to do but get to a hotel for the night, and stay up all night wondering if we’d lose everything we owned.

I went over in the morning; they were still pouring water on the big apartment building, but ours was standing.  The police were only letting people in one at a time, with an escort, so I went in to grab a couple of bags of essentials.  What do you grab when you may not be able to get at your apartment-full of possessions for an indefinite period?  Clothes, the cel phone (couldn’t find it last night), meds, wife’s credit cards, the monitor and keyboard so I could actually use the computer, something to read.

We drove to what was supposed to be a cheaper hotel, only it wasn’t.  My wife called her boss and asked to stay in his office basement.  He said that was OK, so we drove back there, unloaded, and I took a rest.  Then my landlord called with the little he knew, one bit of which was that we should rush over to the building and get anything we needed before they sealed it up for an unknown time.  So we got another load of stuff.

And now we’re somewhere else.  We’re staying with friends in town.  If it continues for awhile, my sister in in the area, though far from my wife’s work (and the health club).

The burned building is a horrific sight— it looks like something that got bombed.  The walls are brick, and the only thing visible is the brick walls, and not even all of those.  It’s still tall, and they’re worried it can collapse, which is why we can’t go back yet.  Plus, checking to make sure people were out, the firemen busted down all the doors.  So we don’t know how long we’ll be out of our apartment; I hope it’s a matter of weeks rather than months.

The fire was on the news; apparently there were no deaths, but there’s a lot of lives messed up today.

So, that’s why I won’t be playing League of Legends for awhile.

The original story of 木兰 Mùlán (‘Magnolia’) comes from an 11C anthology— The Ballad of Mùlán (Mùlán cí)— though the actual source is probably centuries earlier.  I had the whole thing in my book but decided that the full Chinese translation was overkill there, so it’s going here instead.

mulan

The illustration is of 侯梦瑶 Hóu Mèngyáo in a Chinese production, The Legend of Huā Mùlán— she acquired a surname in a Míng play. Mùlán doesn’t belong to Disney!

唧唧复唧唧,木兰当户织。

Jījī fù jījī, Mùlán dāng hù zhī.

(onomatopoeia) again (onomatopoeia) / Mùlán at door weave

Spin spin, again spin spin, Mùlán, facing the door, weaves.

不闻机杼声,唯闻女叹息。

Bù wén jīzhù shēng, wéi wén nǚ tànxī.

not hear machine-shuttle noise/ only hear girl sigh

The loom’s sound is not heard, only the girl’s sighs.

问女何所思?问女何所忆?

Wèn nǚ hé suǒ sī? Wèn nǚ hé suǒ yì?

ask girl what SUB think / ask girl what SUB remember

Ask her, what are you thinking, what do you recall?

女亦无所思,女亦无所忆。

Nǚ yì wú suǒ sī, nǚ yì wú suǒ yì.

girl also not.have SUB think / girl also not.have SUB remember

She does not think, does not recall anything.

昨夜见军帖,可汗大点兵,

Zuóyè jiàn jūn tiě, Kèhán dà diǎn bīng,

yesterday-night see army notice / Khan big point troops

Last night she saw the army notices:

the Khan is mustering a great army—

军书十二卷,卷卷有爷名。

Jūn shū shí’èr juàn, juànjuàn yǒu yé míng.

army book 10 2 scroll / scroll scroll exist father name

The muster fills twelve scrolls, Father’s name is in each one.

阿爷无大儿,木兰无长兄,

Āyé wú dà ér, Mùlán wú zhǎng xiōng,

honorific-father not.have big son / Mùlán not.have extended older.brother

Father has no grown son, Mùlán has no elder brother.

愿为市鞍马,从此替爷征。

Yuàn wéi shì ān mǎ, cóngcǐ tì yé zhēng.

will serve city saddle horse / from this replace father levy

I will buy saddle and horse in the market, and take his place.

东市买骏马,西市买鞍鞯,

Dōng shì mǎi jùn mǎ, xī shì mǎi ānjiān,

east market buy spirited horse / west market buy saddle

In the east market she buys a fine horse, in the west a saddle;

南市买辔头,北市买长鞭。

Nán shì mǎi pèitóu, běi shì mǎi chángbiān.

south market buy bridle / north market buy whip

In the south market a bridle, in the north a whip.

旦辞爷娘去,暮宿黄河边。

Dàn cí yéniáng qù, mù sù Huánghé-biān.

dawn from father-mother go / dusk lodge Yellow-River-side

At dawn she leaves her parents,

at dusk she camps at the side of the Yellow River.

不闻爷娘唤女声,但闻黄河流水鸣溅溅。

Bù wén yéniáng huàn nǚ shēng, dàn wén Huánghé liúshuǐ míng jiānjiān.

not hear father-mother call girl sound / but hear Yellow-River flowing-water sound (onomatopoeia)

She doesn’t hear her parents calling to her,

only the splashing of the Yellow River’s water.

旦辞黄河去,暮至黑山头。

Dàn cí Huánghé qù, mù zhì Hēishān-tóu.

dawn from Yellow-River go / dusk arrive Black-mountain-head

At dawn she leaves the river, reaches the Black Hills at dusk.

不闻爷娘唤女声,但闻燕山胡骑声啾啾。

Bù wén yéniáng huàn nǚ shēng, dàn wén Yān-shān hú qí shēng jiūjiū.

not hear father-mother call girl sound / but hear Swallow-mountain barbarian-rider sound (onomatopoeia)

She doesn’t hear her parents calling to her,

only the sound of the nomads riding on Mt. Yān.

万里赴戎机,关山度若飞。

Wànlǐ fù róng jī, guān shāndù ruò fēi.

10,000-mile go military moment / cut mountain-pass like flying

10,000 miles of riding to battle,

dashing across mountains and passes as if in flight.

朔气传金柝,寒光照铁衣。

Shuò qì chuán jīn tuò, hán guāng zhào tiě yī.

new.moon energy transmit metal watchman.rattle / cold light shine iron armor

The watchman’s clapper rings in the icy wind,

a cold light shines on iron armor.

将军百战死,壮士十年归。

Jiāngjūn bǎi zhàn sǐ, zhuàngshì shí nián guī.

general hundred battle die / warrior ten year return

Generals fight to the death in a hundred battles;

warriors return after ten years.

归来见天子,天子坐明堂。

Guīlái jiàn tiānzǐ, tiānzǐ zuò míngtáng.

return-come see heaven-son / heaven-son sit bright-hall

She returns to see the Emperor, seated in his bright hall.

策勋十二转,赏赐百千强。

Cè xūn shí’èr zhuǎn, shǎngcì bǎi qiān qiáng.

plant merit twelve turn / reward hundred thousand power

He bestows the highest honors on her, and countless sums.

可汗问所欲,“木兰不用尚书郎,

Kèhán wèn suǒ yù.“Mùlán bù yòng shàngshū-láng,

khan ask SUB desire / Mùlán not need honor-book-scholar

The khan asked what she wanted. “Mùlán does not need an appointment to office.

愿借明驼千里足,送儿还故乡。”

Yuàn jiè míng tuó qiānlǐ zú, sòng ér huán gùxiāng.”

will borrow bright camel thousand-mile sufficient / send child return home

I want only a camel capable of a long journey,

to carry me back to my home town.”

爷娘闻女来,出郭相扶将。

Yéniáng wén nǚ lái, chū guō xiāng fújiāng.

father-mother hear girl come / go.out city.wall mutual support

The parents hear that their daughter is coming;

they wait at the city wall, holding each other up.

阿姊闻妹来,当户理红妆。

Āzǐ wén mèi lái, dāng hù lǐ hóngzhuāng.

honorific-older.sister hear younger.sister come / at door arrange red-adornment

The older sister hears that her younger sister is coming,

she waits at the door, applying red makeup.

小弟闻姊来,磨刀霍霍向猪羊。

Xiǎodì wén zǐ lái, mó dāo huòhuò xiàng zhū yáng.

little-younger.brother hear older.sister come / grind knife (onomatopoeia) to pig sheep

The younger brother hears that his older sister is coming,

he quickly sharpens the knife for the pig and sheep.

“开我东阁门,坐我西阁床。

Kāi wǒ dōng gé mén, zuò wǒ xī gé chuáng.

open I east chamber gate / sit I west chamber bed

“I open the door on the east side of the room,

sit on the bed on the west side.

脱我战时袍,着我旧时裳。”

Tuō wǒ zhànshí páo, zhuó wǒ jiùshí cháng.

remove I battle-time robe / dress I former-time skirt

I take off my wartime gear, put on my old clothes.”

当窗理云鬓,对镜贴花黄。

Dāng chuāng lǐ yúnbìn, duì jìng tiē huā huáng.

at window arrange cloud-hair / facing mirror stick flower-yellow

At the window she arranges her flowing hair;

before a mirror she applies a flower decoration.

出门看火伴,火伴皆惊惶。

Chū mén kàn huǒbàn, huǒbàn jiē jīnghuáng.

go.out gate see fire-mate / fire-mate all shock-fear

She comes to the gate to meet her fellow soldiers,

who are all utterly shocked:

同行十二年,不知木兰是女郎。

Tóng xíng shí’èr nián, bù zhī Mùlán shì nǚláng.

with go twelve year / not know Mùlán be girl-youth

Her companions for twelve years didn’t know she was a woman.

“雄兔脚扑朔,雌兔眼迷离;

“Xióng tù jiǎo pū shuò, cí tù yǎn mílí;

male hare foot push north / female hare eye blurred

“[Held up,] the male rabbit’s foot kicks quickly;

the female rabbit’s eye is nearly closed.

两兔傍地走,安能辨我是雄雌!”

liǎng tù bàng dì zǒu, ān néng biàn wǒ shì xióng cí!”

both rabbit close earth go.along / how can distinguish I be male female

But if both are running on the ground,

how can I tell which is which?”

One thing I learned at the gym: ponytails don’t work as video game animators think they do.

Press F at just the right moment to avoid gruesome death

Press F at the right moment to avoid gruesome death

In video games, ponytails like Lara’s mostly bounce up and down. Playing games before, it looked all right to me. (You can get an idea of how Lara’s hair behaves from this video. It may not be immediately obvious, as her hair is also affected by the wind, and movements of her head.)

Actual ponytails move left to right. The range of motion is surprisingly high– if the ponytail isn’t too big, it’ll go through more than 180 degrees while its owner runs. (You can see this in this video.) A thicker or longer ponytail won’t move as much, but the motion is still left/right. Not surprisingly, it follows the motions of the arms. (If the woman is walking, there’s much less movement, but what there is remains left/right.)

Not a big deal, but a fun physics fact.

I’m almost done with the second draft, so it’s time for a page all about my China book. Ordering information will be there when the book is out.  I’m trying to get the book out before Christmas.  (I’m not certain about the cover yet; I have to see what it looks like as a physical object.)

A little pénjǐng

A little pénjǐng

Based on a suggestion from alert reader John Cowan, the title is now China Construction Kit, which fits neatly into my œuvre, and also avoids limiting the book to conlangers.

If you volunteered to read the second draft, I’ll be in touch shortly. I would still like to get readers who know Mandarin or Old Chinese well, so if that’s you, contact me.