All posts by wankongyew

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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Monster Machine

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How’s this for awesome picture of the week? I did a double-take when I first saw this picture but this is a real machine alright. It’s the Bagger 288 excavator and you can see more pictures of it on this blog. Particularly awesome are the photos of the machine chewing up a Caterpillar bulldozer, the poor little thing.

I picked up on this because this machine was apparently an inspiration for the developers of the upcoming Borderlands game by Gearbox Software. As you can see from this promotional picture, there’s definitely a distinctive resemblance there.

“Three Little Pigs” Offensive

BBC News has an article on a ebook retelling of the classic “Three Little Pigs” children’s story meant for primary school children being turned down for a government award on the grounds that some might find it offensive. The judges thought that the ebook which was distributed on a CD-ROM might offend not only Muslims due to its use of pigs as characters but also construction labourers since, well, the pigs in the story build houses.

Needless to say, I find this to be an example of political correctness at its most ridiculous. Sometimes a pig is just a pig.