Sunday, November 27, 2011

Sunday Sites 99

Survived a week full of college apps. No rest for the wicked.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/andygreenberg/2011/11/23/wary-of-sopa-reddit-users-aim-to-build-a-new-censorship-free-internet/ Resist!

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=%2Fn%2Fa%2F2011%2F11%2F24%2Fnational%2Fa233955S49.DTL&tsp=1 Food for Thought: If Occupy Protesters get pepper sprayed and beaten for camping in public space, why don't Black Friday Shoppers?

And… that’s it for this 99th Sunday Sites. It’s been one hell of a week for me and I’ll have more next time.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Sincere and Honest Demand for Copyright Reform

Dear Representatives Speier, Pelosi and Senators Feinstein and Boxer

Who do you stand with? The ludicrous idea of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and PROTECT IP reaching actual discussion within Washington has given citizens rationale to question the authenticity of our elected officials. Do you serve to protect the rights of American citizens or the sanctity of the profits of corporations? SOPA is treasonous, evil and the single greatest affront to American freedom since the institution of slavery.

In discussion of the Communications Decency Act of 1996, which would have criminalized displaying “indecent” material to minors, Judge Steward Dalzell wrote “As the most participatory form of mass speech yet developed, the Internet deserves the highest protection from governmental intrusion”. The Supreme Court affirmed the decision in Reno v. ACLU, acknowledging that government-based filtering of content was contradictory to the First Amendment.

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We have entered the twilight weeks of 2011, and SOPA and its cousin PROTECT-IP have garnered massive outcry from 95% of Internet users. Under the terms of the bill, “rouge sites”, web sites located on servers in other nations with more hospitable copyright laws, will be blocked from access in the United States. This will be accomplished through a method called DNS filtering; the very same censorship tool utilized by authoritarian states such as China, Syria and Iran. SOPA effectively erects the Western equivalent of China’s Great Firewall.

Since the advent of mass use of the Internet, public discussion has been sorely needed to reform archaic copyright laws that restrict the intellectual freedom of content producers everywhere. The rise of user-generated content hosted on media-sharing sites like YouTube, Flickr and Bandcamp has created a new form of art based on modifying existing work. Derivative works, such as covers, remixes, image macros and mods are the pieces of this amateur movement. An example of such memetic art that has received widespread media attention is the infamous “Pepper Spray Cop”, in which Lt. Pike’s nonchalant visage is Photoshopped into famous works of art. In the spirit of the hackers of the 1980s; media like “Pepper Spray Cop” is released for free online under open licenses like Creative Commons. Blocking such media on the grounds of copyright infringement is proof positive that traditional copyright is incompatible with the freedom of the Internet age.

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Furthermore, the Internet has revolutionized content sharing and communication through startups like Facebook and Twitter. Private entities will be forced to censor and redact copyright infringing links and content at the brutish command of both bill’s parameters. The practice of downloading an amusing picture to one’s hard drive to share on one’s Facebook page would cease to exist. As a result, private communication between individuals becomes heavily monitored. Our privacy is invaded not out a tenuous concern for national security, but out of concern for the profits of media companies like VEVO, Sony and Warner Media Group. For these corporations, it becomes clear which half of “Intellectual Property” takes greater precedence.

My sincere and honest demands are threefold and are listed below.

1. Kill PROTECT-IP and SOPA in their respective branches when the time to vote on their passage comes around.

2. Reaffirm the government’s role to protect the interests of individual citizens rather than the corporations that have destroyed democracy and freedom through their insatiable greed.

3. Enact active discussion to reform the restrictive copyright law that has restricted the freedom of derivative artists everywhere.

I am certain that PROTECT-IP and SOPA will die in Congress, however, the mere fact that such an act was even brought into consideration necessitates a critique of our current copyright laws and the extent the government should be involving itself with corporations. The Internet has been a boon to free-speech everywhere, I thus implore you to side with the citizenry of the United States and protect the integrity of online communications and the hope that the web’s decentralization will pave way for a more participatory culture.

Thank you

           Kevin Wong

A Sincere and Honest Demand for Copyright Reform by Kevin Wong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License. You are free to remix, redistribute and modify this work as you see fit under the conditions that the license remains the same.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Sites 97

After a few weeks of special features, here we return with regular Sunday Sites blogging.

http://thinkprogress.org/special/2011/11/18/372361/rep-deutch-introduces-occupied-constitutional-amendment-to-ban-corporate-money-in-politics/ Rep. Deutch is listening to the Occupy movement, actual change might be happening.

Sign the petition at: https://wwws.whitehouse.gov/petitions/!/petition/support-rep-ted-deutchs-occupied-amendment-order-end-corporate-personhood-and-restore-civil-rights/5xFXKzL4#thank-you=p to support the potential constitutional amendment to redefine corporate personhood. (Thanks Roger!)

Also, frickin’ awesome stuff: http://www.aagneyam.com/blog/?p=551 How to use Google for Hacking (Thanks Demetri!)

http://www.euratlas.net/history/europe/index.html Map of European political borders, year by year since 1 AD. Cool stuff.

http://pc.ign.com/articles/120/1200450p1.html Why I play Minecraft: A game with spiritual and therapeutic value.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/15/congress-pushes-back-on-h_1_n_1094764.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009 wtf am I reading. Pizza is a vegetable now?

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Minecraft Review

There’s a certain, magical sense of childlike wonder permeating throughout every moment of Minecraft that few of us have experienced since the cessation of our childhoods. It is a memory marked by the wondrous sense of innocence that we took for granted before our lives became inundated with the harried strife of reality, a memory of a time when every day brought with it a joyful new experience, a time when every nook and cranny of the enchanted world could have been a cave filled with forgotten treasure, a world where monsters lurked under the bed every night and we cried to our parents to protect us. For all of us, it has been decades since we last experienced that euphoric sense of novelty accompanying every moment of our existence, the very next morning becoming something we perpetually dread. Childhood has been lost forever to the insatiable maws of tomorrow, innocence is shattered forever while we desperately try to put together the shards, be it through our first breakup, our first job, or even the rite of passage of entering Elementary School.


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And thus is the beauty of Minecraft. It is through the simple joy of exploration through which a long-forgotten facet of our each of our individual histories is recalled to life. This is an incredible game recalling a time when everything was new and hope bled through our fantasies into reality. It thus goes without saying that this is not a game for the decade, but one for eternity.

Gameplay
In simplest terms, Minecraft is a sandbox/RPG in which every component of the gameworld can be modified by the player and used as a tool. The goal of the game’s RPG component is to collect resources and build structures during the day to survive the night, during which the monsters roam. This is an extremely open-ended style of play and the game’s infinite range of possibilities becomes immediately perceptible. There is a goal to Minecraft and there is a final boss and end sequence, but the game’s already open-ended main quest is easily eschewed when one realizes the creative potential the game’s construction system offers. In short, the player must collect arcane materials buried deep in the earth to create a portal to another dimension to slay the “Ender Dragon”. It’s a childlike set-up that could have been conceived in any number of Kindergarten recesses and perfectly appropriate for the imaginative nature of the game.
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What happens between the player’s initial spawn and the defeat of the Ender Dragon is totally up to the player. This freedom, shockingly enough, does not feel overwhelming, but liberating. Within moments, a single thought implants itself in the player’s mind: “I can do anything in this game!” Roaming the procedurally generated gameworld guided only by the built-in achievements guide is an exercise in glee. That cave over there? Grab a torch, let’s go spelunking in it! The grassy meadow over there? Go ahead, pick some flowers. The islands in the distance? Not a hard swim, I even see smoke rising from an NPC village there. All the resources you discover from deconstructing the gameworld can be used in the single most robust crafting system seen in gaming. Within minutes, the gameworld becomes a playset for your imagination, a kind of modern-day LEGO set. The trees, rocks and caves become the components for your tools, weapons, armor and houses, you begin to see the world around you differently.

That is until nightfall. Despite the joyously hyperactive imagination of the daytime, night in Minecraft is greatly reminiscent of a child’s dread of bedtime. The monsters of Minecraft are brutally persistent in their tenacity to chew on your brains, zombies will moan from unseen dark corners and skeletons will fire arrows at you from a distance. None of these enemies compare to the terrifying onslaught of the Creeper. A quadrupedal mass of wrinkled green skin, the Creeper is perpetually haunted by a sad, mournful frown. The most advisable thing to do when encountering one is to run the hell away. The Creeper can explode for an instant kill, causing the player to lose all progress, resources and equipment, respawning him at the game’s start. Watch out for these enemies, as they are terrifying to encounter. Night in Minecraft effectively becomes as horrific as enduring nights as a young child, the perpetual threat of monsters lurking inches below your mattress. Its a brutally haunting game to play and beautiful in the memories it evokes.

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A memory that will always stay with me originates from a few hours ago as I emerged from my safehouse prior to the break of dawn. Armed with a newly crafted stone sword, I beat down the zombies that were knocking at my door throughout the night and saw some cows and sheep across the strait on an island. I swam across the strait and slayed the animals for meat, wool and leather, the intent of weaving a warm jacket lurking in my mind. I heard an unfamiliar moan and raised my head to see, staring from about twenty feet away, a Creeper. I backed away, turned around, and made a break for it, sprinting as fast as I could go. I jumped into the strait and splashed my way across, thinking that the water would separate us because it could not swim. I emerged on the opposite bank and turned around, wading, already halfway across the river, was the Creeper. Terrified, I dashed away, fumbling over a hill, turning my head periodically to observe its progress as it quickly gained on me.

Not looking where I was going, I fell into a crevasse and injured myself. Looking up into the hole through which I fell, I saw that I rolled down about a hundred feet… losing the Creeper in the process… Wonderful… Getting back to the surface and back to the safehouse is going to be so much more of a bother. I lowered my head and saw, jutting out from the cobblestone of the mouth of an extensive system of interweaving caves and catacombs, a cache of glittering diamonds. Like in life, one downfall opens up a host of new opportunities. I picked up my pickaxe and set to work. When the diamonds were gone, I ventured deep into the cave system, eagerly seeking out an adventure.
Minecraft’s second game mode is called “Creative Mode”, and removes the constraints of hunger, experience, health, resources and gravity to allow the player to construct anything he can imagine freely. With the available mods and texture packs, incredible stuff can be done. Just look at some of the things the community has conceived.
Further proving the LEGO comparison: Minecraft has already been popping up in art and computer science classes all around the country. Its an exciting proposition with the potential to do a lot of good for society

Graphics and Audio
Minecraft, running on the same Lightweight Java Game Engine, of whose components I am using to power Dark Deception, suffers from scattershot performance. Despite the minimalistic and attractive 8-bit aesthetic the game adheres to, only on minimal settings is the game playable at an acceptable frame rate, at least on a common laptop. To run the game at its best, you’re going to have to turn off fancy graphical features such as ambient lighting and high-render distances. Its a shame, since Minecraft isn’t supposed to be visually awe-inspiring to begin with. It nonetheless channels the first moments of any Bethesda game at all times. A strong incentive to keep exploring is to see what incredible natural structure the procedurally generated world will come up with next, the vastness of valleys and mountains constantly pushing the player to go further.

From an audiovisual standpoint, it would appear that Minecraft is still under construction even this late in its release cycle. C418’s piano orchestrations sound great in the game, and the simple piano and synth soundtrack frames the game's theme well, adding great emotional ambiance. Sound effects have been vastly improved since the game's beta and now apply to all the game's objects. The high dynamic range of the audio gives night time a palpable sense of creepiness as zombies and creepers moan right outside the door.

Impact and Community
Minecraft’s creator, Markus “Notch” Perrson, expressed interest from an early point in making Minecraft open-source after sales died down. Already a vast amount of the game’s codebase is open and modifiable, giving the game an unforeseen educational and creative value. More importantly, the game’s openness has spawned a mammoth mod community unseen since the hacker culture of the early 90s. If playing the core game gives the illusion that anything can be done in Minecraft, editing the game’s source and installing modifications proves that anything can be really done in the game.
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The game’s empowering truly comes to life in the various community mods for the game. Portalcraft, for one, turns the entire game into a reimagining of Valve’s subversive puzzler. An upcoming Zelda mod promises to build another entry in the venerable series, complete with functional items, environmental puzzles, dungeons and bosses. Pokemob, nearing a state of completion, recreates the entire Kanto region with complete character models for the original 151, and, oh yes, all the gameplay functionality of the original game, such as inventory, battles and Gym Leaders, will be implemented in the mod. Sadly, no word on Missingno.
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Minecraft’s openness has had a social impact on my community. I witnessed several people from my school who had no interest whatsoever in video games become enthralled by the idea of learning how to program in Java and build character models. Despite a lockdown on modifying school computers, Minecraft executables began to pop up on desktops like weeds. School bandwidth plummeted as multiplayer servers were clandestinely run on the community network. Its an easy game to become instantly obsessed with, and the extent of community mod support extends the value of an already infinitely replayable game to Olympian heights. A new generation of independent game developers is being incubated right now, and they are supported by the freedom that Minecraft’s code base affords them.

Conclusion
If there is one game you purchase this year, let it be Minecraft. Minecraft touched my soul in a way that I never imagined possible after my tenth birthday. This is a pioneering game and the embodiment of the values of freedom upheld by computer hackers that have been drowned out since corporations began to encroach on the medium. Notch and Mojang have effectively captured lightning in a bottle: the childlike playfulness that drew us to gaming in the first place. As we became entrenched in shooter after shooter, fighting game after fighting game, we have forgotten the youthful joy we so desperately sought after. How fitting is it that the original wonder of childhood would manifest itself in a world that, much like our own, is procedurally generated, be it through science or the rule of God. Minecraft shines as a beacon of hope, not just for gaming, but for mankind. Play this game… and tremble. 5/5

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Monday, November 7, 2011

Dark Deception Developer’s Diary #3

It has been a good few months since the last Developer’s Diary for Dark Deception, and a lot, A LOT, has happened in the time since the last update.

For one, we now have a great new programmer. Bard Soedal of Mandal, Norway has been a Minecraft modder for several months now and has authored several Pokemon-themed character models such as a blocky Nidoking and an even blockier Pokemon Center. Awesome stuff. He’s now our new world-engineer and will be contributing his incredible talent to Team Corsehead until he returns to Norway next summer.

In terms of development, I have progressed to begin building the ESA Power Plant, the game’s first dungeon and the location of a critical story event driving the entire game’s action. It has been a long process of individually designing tiles pixel-by-pixel and laying them out. The content that you see below is pre-release content and will never reflect the look of the final version of the game.

balcony breakroom entrance infiltration - Copy  infiltration_destroyed tankhangar upstairsoffice

All pretty cool stuff, the boards above collectively took about two months to construct.

I’ve been taking AP Computer Science since the start of the school year and in the few months I’ve been studying Java, have learned enough to put together a pretty basic computational prototype built out of a bunch of if statements, a lot of void methods and a few arrays and classes. The battle loop is fully functional as are special move-systems and damage and spoils calculation. However, a lot of functionality has yet to be implemented, including a modularity system so that the same code for the battle loop can work with any given enemy, character, equipment set or move-“deck”. Furthermore, the game’s most unique characteristic, a set of three offensive and defensive stances that any character in the battlefield can take for damage mitigation and bonuses, remains under construction.

Programming has been quite a joy to learn and has the lovely effect of putting one in a meditative state as one contemplates a variety of creative ways to solve problems. A great deal of imagination is needed to code effectively. Computer Science is a language that all should have the chance to undertake. Really cool stuff.

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I tried exporting the demo from Eclipse as a .jar file, but the program crashed on launch. I’ll be working on finding a way to make the demo playable to anyone who wants to try it out in the coming weeks.

Peace
Kevin

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Resident Evil 4 Review

Quick quiz: name the top five most influential games from the last generation.

Good job, Resident Evil 4 has been lauded universally as one of the most important games of the Gamecube/PS2/Xbox era, having pioneered third person shooting while bringing in a new era of graphical fidelity and gleeful violence. It currently retains a position comfortably as one of the highest-rated games on Metacritic and has been ported and remade multiple times in its six year lifespan. There is no doubt that Resident Evil 4 is a great game, but whether or not it has stood the test of time remains up to debate. re4_box

Story and Atmosphere

It is a cloudy afternoon in a remote Spanish mountain pass. My pistol drawn and ammuntion low, I inch forward through the woods, dry leaves crushing beneath my feet, into an empty shack on the side of the road. I find medicinal herbs and unused clips on the table. As I turn around to exit, I see a ghastly sight: the decapitated and decomposing corpse of a local woman impaled onto the shack wall. My nerves tense and I continue towards the village I was ordered to investigate.

Three villagers sit around a campfire atop a cliff. They catch sight of me as I walk down the path and immediately run away, not even taking care to extinguish their fire. My spine begins to tingle and I cross the rickety rope bridge to the village gate.

Taking cover behind a tree, I bring out my binoculars to scout out the village. There are about twenty or so farmers roaming about the square, circling a flaming stake. I peer towards the stake and see the charred corpse of the police officer that drove me here. I clench my teeth as my hand inches toward my pistol. I make a run for it.

A scream pierces the air and I double take looking for its source. One of the villagers points at me, teeth bared and the look of venom in his eyes. The chill of death shakes my bones as farmers burst out through every door, dropping their tasks and rushing towards me, teeth bared and tools ready to stab me. I bolt into an empty house and slam the door shut, pushing a dresser to barricade the door. Rushing up the stairs, I discover a shotgun. I rush towards the window and begin to open fire from above. For now, everything is alright.

I hear a knock from the balcony behind me, the villagers have pulled up a ladder. I vault through the window and throw down the ladder, hearing the sickening thud of the man’s bones crushing into the ground. But it is too late, the villagers breach through the downstairs door and the terrifying screech of a chainsaw revs into existence. I swing around the banister and fire a shotgun blast directly into the torso into the fat man with a bloodied bag over his head and the chainsaw in his hand.

But he barely flinches, the force of the shrapnel, enough to blow a normal man in two, hits him with the force of a thrown pebble. I fire again and again as my ammo runs dry, and nothing happens. He raises the chainsaw above his head and swings it into my neck. The vibration of the blade shakes my bones as my head separates from my body and I die. Behind the screen, my controller sits dropped on the floor and my mouth agape in shock. resident-evil-4-20050516000049172_640w

If the narrative passage above hasn’t yet convinced you, let it be known that Resident Evil 4 is a scary and atmospheric game. Its opening sequence consistently engraves itself into the memories of all who play it. Permeating throughout all of the game’s environs is an overwhelming sense of hostility towards the player, the feeling that the player is not welcome into its bleak, dark world.

 

For all of its atmospheric glory, Resident Evil 4 features a rather weak and silly story grounded in conspiratorial clich├ęs spoiled by forced presentation elements. The creepy atmosphere is all but broken when the hero discovers in the enemy base a document, helpfully titled, “OUR PLAN”. Furthermore, the game’s atrocious voice acting, holding the quality of the background voiceover of a Disneyland ride, oftentimes turns the creepiness into ridiculousness. 

Gameplay

Resident Evil 4 has been universally lauded as the catalyst for the birth of the modern third-person shooter. Games as diverse as Gears of War, Red Dead Redemption and Mass Effect owe their mechanics to Resident Evil for their over-the-shoulder perspective, which included modes for quick moving and accurate shooting switchable at a moment’s notice. This allowed for a more fluid and action packed method of navigating the games environments, thus making third-person shooting precise and accurate. Audiovisual impact makes the use of each item of Leon’s arsenal extremely fun.

Some have derided Resident Evil 4 for not featuring a cover system, a gameplay mechanic that would make its way into many third-person action games to come. Frankly, this argument is invalid: Resident Evil’s enemies do not shoot at the player, thus negating the need for a cover system. The infected villagers, monks and industrial workers of the game shamble slowly like zombies, closing in for melee attacks. This forces the player to alternate between move and shoot modes as he tries to distance himself from enemies as they close in, thus establishing a rhythmic pattern of run-turn-shoot, run-turn-shoot, run-turn-shoot. Its fun stuff and establishes the game’s theme of constant terror, flight being a constant response no matter how well armed Leon may be.

And well-armed you may be, Resident Evil 4 features a RPG-like system of item acquisition and upgrades. Scattered throughout the game’s environments are treasures, which can be sold to merchants for gold. Gold in turn can buy new weapons, health upgrades, medicines and weapon-attachments. These items and upgrades are all placed in Leon’s invisible lockbox.

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Managing the lockbox is again, an RPG-like system of recognizing the slots each item takes up and rotating them, moving them and removing them to squeeze a maximal amount of ammunition, medicine and weapons into as small a space as possible. It’s a process as stressful as packing.Thankfully, lockbox upgrades are available as the player progresses throughout the game, alleviating the frustration while making the player more powerful than the enemies of the game, thus making the game’s later levels far less frightening than earlier ones.

Its not all stylized ultra-violence, in fact, quirky puzzles and treasure hunts are interspersed between sections of combat, thus giving the game a needed cerebral facet. Unfortunately, the puzzles aren’t based in the gameworld and are not based on the same mechanics that ground navigation and combat. Oftentimes, the player must enter a separate screen to solve a slider puzzle or other minigame to pass through a locked door or access a hidden treasure. These puzzles are oftentimes frustrating and break up the game’s brisk pace.

Graphics/Audio

From an auditory perspective, Resident Evil 4’s sound design perfectly grounds and enhances the game’s hostile and creepy atmosphere. The quiet moan of an enemy around the corner, the clanking of metal chains and the wind quietly howling from beyond a cave are all strongly atmospheric. Tense music, unlike the voice acting, works well to improve the game’s creepiness.

Resident Evil 4 has aged relatively well over the years. While the game’s textures have abysmal resolution, beautiful lighting and character models still look great. A fantastic art style grounds each of the three environments Leon will explore, and each chapter is visually and thematically distinct. From the overwhelming hostility of a remote European village to the mysterious secret passages of a monastic castle and the crazy experiments of a island laboratory, the game’s worlds are memorable and fun to explore.

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Conclusion

Resident Evil 4 may seem dated by modern standards especially in terms of its graphics and shooting mechanics. Nonetheless, the historical impact of this game is immediately perceptible, it having spawned the modern third-person shooter and introducing a new precedent for gameplay control. In spite of some forced storytelling, Resident Evil 4 maintains its shine and remains one of the finest adventures of the last generation. 4.25/5