Off-Road Velociraptor Safari

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Who wouldn’t love a game called Off-Road Velociraptor Safari? Not long ago, I blogged about how sophisticated Flash games were getting and how much gameplay they could offer even when restricted to being 2D. Well, the folks at FlashBang Studios have done one better and created a simple but fun 3D game that runs right on your browser. You do need to install the Unity Web Player application that allows 3D browser-based applications and, being a 3D game, you’ll probably want to run it on a computer with at least an entry-level video card for acceptable performance, but you’ll soon be driving around in your off-road vehicle running down and gathering poor velociraptors for points.

Its graphics are serviceable if not terribly impressive, but there’s a simple physics and vehicle damage modelling system and practically anything that you do, from doing stunts to causing damage to your jeep can earn you bonus points. All in all, a nifty little game to liven up an afternoon at work. Of special note is that the velociraptors in the game are portrayed not as the scaly lizards of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, but as the feathered ancestors of birds that the current scientific consensus thinks they are. Which in the game, means that you end up chasing what looks like spiny thin, colourful chickens more than anything else.

China Controls the Weather

I’ve previously read that China intends to make sure that nothing, not even rain, will get in the way of its coming out party that is the 2008 Olympics at Beijing, but even I’m surprised to learn to learn of the colossal scale of their plans. The purpose built stadium for the Olympics, the Beijing National Stadium, is open to the elements, so the Chinese government has decided to implement weather modification technology that reduces the size of the raindrops over the stadium so they won’t condense and fall to the earth until after the clouds carrying them have passed by the stadium. In order to accomplish this, China is marshaling the full resources of its 37,000 strong bureau of weather modification together with 30 aircraft, 4,000 rocket launchers and 7,000 antiaircraft guns to get the necessary chemicals into the air around the stadium.

The science geek in me is amazed by the audacity of the Chinese government to impose their own weather according to their will but I’m also concerned about the possible environmental consequences of such drastic actions. Needless to say, this sort of thing will never be possible in Western countries for it’ll quickly whip up a firestorm of environmental protests and liability lawsuits over even imagined ailments from the fallout.

A Half-Life 2 Retrospective

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Half-Life 2 is a 4 year old game at this point and already a classic of the genre, so writing a conventional review of it would be pointless. But I’ve just spent the past week playing it for the first time, so I thought it would be interesting to write about my impressions on it as someone who’s played most of the current crop of modern FPS games. Technologically of course, Half-Life 2 can’t hold a candle to its successors. 4 years is after all a long time in the computer industry, and the latest graphics engines put the Source engine to shame (even the Source-engine powered Portal, new and innovative as it is, looks somewhat bland compared to current games). But overall the game still looks good enough that playing through it didn’t feel painful (unlike say, when I tried to replay Aliens vs. Predator 2 a couple of years ago) and the game’s many strengths more than made up for it.

One of my first surprises was how long the game felt compared to more recent shooters. I find that most modern shooters these days can be finished in three or four evenings of dedicated playing, but Half-Life 2 sprawling tale stretched out for the most part of a week for me and took me into a variety of locales and situations that most other shooters can’t match either. Another factor that added to its length are the storytelling sequences. Half-Life 2 has no cutscenes per se since the entire story is told strictly from Gordon Freeman’s perspective without any temporal jumps from the player’s point of view. But the story is advanced in a number of scenes which are only minimally interactive in which other characters hold lengthy dialogues with one another in Freeman’s presence. These are worth hearing alone because they show off one of the strengths of the Source engine that is still valid even today: the facial expressiveness of characters animated in the Source engine but they’re not skippable and do add to the overall length.

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The Child-Man

The gaming world has been lit abuzz by a fiery editorial piece by conservative writer Kay Hymowitz entitled “Child-Man in the Promised Land” that appeared in City Journal and was featured on National Public Radio in the U.S. You can read a reply to her editorial on Gaming Today here. Hymowitz’s basic point is that men today don’t grow up. Whereas the previous generation used to leave school, get a stable job, marry a wife and raise children in his own house, men today tend to drift through life aimlessly and refuse to commit to marriage, and are often still living with their parents even well into their 30s. To her, the phenomenon of adult men playing video games, the biggest segment of gamers are men between the ages of 18 and 34 she cites, is the perfect symbol of the child-man.

The blatant sexism of the entire article is disgusting. As one commenter to the article in Gaming Today put it, if Hymowitz had been a man and talked about women in the way she talks about men, it would have been impossible for her to keep her job in the United States. For example, she writes, “Single women in their twenties and early thirties are joining an international New Girl Order, hyperachieving in both school and an increasingly female-friendly workplace, while packing leisure hours with shopping, travelling, and dining with friends. Single Young Males, or SYMs, by contrast, often seem to hang out in a playground of drinking, hooking up, playing Halo 3, and, in many cases, underachieving.” Why is it that women spending their leisure hours shopping, travelling, and dining with friends is perfectly okay while men spending their leisure hours drinking, socializing and playing video games is a sign of their immaturity?

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Recent Interesting Science Articles (Jan’08)

Three articles all on the subject of biology for this month. Science news website LiveScience had an article this month with a controversial angle: it cites a new study published in Psychopharmacology which found that male mice liked to fight for no reason other than to fight. The experiment involved first placing a male and a female pair of mice in a cage, then removing the female one and introducing another male “intruder” mouse. After the initial fight, the scientists arranged for the cage to be rigged such that when the mouse nose-poked a specific trigger, the intruder mouse would be able to return to the cage. They found that the resident mouse would actually do this often, suggesting that it regarded fighting as a sort of reward. The scientists then treated the mice with a drug known to block the effects of dopamine in parts of brain involved in rewards and found that this had the effect of reducing the mice’s tendency to nose-poke the trigger.

The controversy in this case comes from the researchers’ argument that the results would be equally applicable to humans as the reward pathway in humans and mice are similar and that aggression is highly conserved in vertebrates in general and mammals in particular. I believe that this remains to be proven but would not find it surprising if true. In any case, if indeed this were proven true, it would reinforce the usefulness of activities like sports and games to vent the natural aggression of human males.

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Trees vs. Solar Panels: Fight!

As a libertarian, the subject of environmentalism often makes me uneasy and this dispute in California makes for a good example of why that is. The facts of the case are as follows: from 1997 to 1999, Richard Treanor and Carolynn Bissett planted eight redwood trees in the yard behind their house in Santa Clara county. In 2001, after the trees were already planted, their neighbour, Mark Vargas, decides to install a 10-kilowatt solar power system in his house. At the time, Vargas knew that his neighbours’ trees would eventually grow so big as to cover the sunlight that his solar panels would need, so he approached Treanor and Bissett and asked them to remove the trees or trim them back. They refused, stating that they planted the trees for privacy reasons. Vargas went ahead and installed his solar system anyway.

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My Orange Box

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As you can see, my copy of The Orange Box is finally here. I’d actually ordered it a couple of months back from PCGame.com.my to be delivered to my wife’s house so that she could get it from her parents when they visited Australia. Unfortunately, when I tried activating it, I got an error message about how my license key is only valid for Russia and surrounding territories. I suppose that the Russia part is some mistake by Valve, and in any case, it clearly says on my box that this copy is only valid for Brunei, Cambodia, Indonedia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam and the Solomon Islands is not in this list.

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The unexamined life is a life not worth living