Friday, July 30, 2010

The Book of Jobs

Since I started watching c-span regularly, one word has been repeated to death in almost every debate. That word has been "Jobs". When anyone is for something, it's always "it will create jobs". When anyone is opposed to something, it's always "it will destroy jobs". Now as a jobless slacker I may be a bit bias, but I think it's this sort of logic that caused our economic problems in the first place.

The problem here is simple. Blindly creating new jobs doesn't work. In fact I think it makes things worse. Today's job market is a vast bloated over-saturated mess. It's a quantity over quality issue really. The problem isn't that there needs to be new jobs, the problem is the jobs available SUCK. Most jobs are simply tedious unappreciated grunt work that can be done by anyone. The people hiring often could care less about employees because there is so many people willing to do the same thing. And people hoping for better alternatives from the government are bound to be disappointed, because most government created jobs are either temporary, crappy, highly specialized, or some combination of the three.

The thing is, it's not all "The Man"'s fault, or the employer's. It's the worker's own fault a lot too. Because they often insist on letting the system beat them around, on letting the winds of fate decide their employment, and because they work for anyone who hires them. Not everyone has a choice in this, I know. There are times you need to do what you need to do to survive and thats that. But I think the most successful people today are people who make themselves successful.

In this day and age, it is entirely possible, for example, to start a site on the web or write comics, books, games, or music, and make millions of dollars. Why is this? Simple. Today's system rewards those with creative ambition (which I so wish I had more of) more then hard labor. And it's not hard to see why. ANYONE can work at McDonalds. But the big secret is, most anyone can create something people are willing to buy or find some clever other way to make money too, it's just that most don't try. That is not to say working at McDonalds is bad either. Some have no choice. Some people even enjoy it. And those people are exactly who SHOULD work there, not anyone else.

Besides that, another thing that annoys me is the tendency for the government to gave in to corporations because they may go overseas. I say let them. It would just give people the opportunity to make local versions in their place. There is tons of things about the "reliance on foreign oil" and such. But if America wanted, they could just NOT IMPORT OIL. Yes we may not be able to use our cars. Boo-hoo. Take a bike, jackass. Yes electricity may go out. Use a candle for light and ice for refrigerating. There is no reason for this "AMERICA MUST BE NUMBER 1 IN EVERYTHING" mentality. We don't. Besides I am sure we would make new ways of doing things quicker if we didn't have all this shit to stop us. Not that it really matters, people will do what they want and find ways to survive. I am mostly annoyed at the "must have" language. If they simply said "we want" I might not mind so much.

Personally just I think government and the economy should be as far removed as they can be from each other. The government's job has always been in my mind a basic rule of law only. Some sort of other organization should handle public services and economic issues, like a collection of unions/guilds that exist mostly to assure quality of service and worker's rights. The unions of today though are too self-serving so how well that will work I have no idea. I do have recurring dreams about a government/guild system that MOSTLY works. I have been meaning to describe it here in more detail... maybe next time... or not.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Happy birthday to me!

I know I really should be depressed, being one year closer to death today, but I had nachos today, and no one can be sad with nachos. Though I didn't get any cake yet...

Honestly though birthdays aren't that much different form any other day. If I want to get depressed about being old I have all year for that. I am 31 now yo, that means I can drink Super Beer. Not that I would, I don't drink beer. Oh well.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Guitar Zero World Bore

I stumbled on an old video reviewing Guitar Hero 5 where the reviewer mostly complains about how the lineup of songs is crap. Well duh. Even if I didn't hate rock to start with, I think the bigger problem is, no matter what the songs are, music games just suck anyway.

From the original DDR, to whatever future Rock Guitar Band Hero 500 game may exist, they suck, always have sucked, and always will suck. They force feed you whatever shitty pop music happens to be popular, they require expensive stupid peripherals to really enjoy, they milk the franchises with more squeals and spin offs then Mega Man or Street Fighter combined, but the worse offense is, they just offer nothing in terms of gameplay or entertainment, unless you count looking like an ass.

For god sakes people, I don't want to turn this into a "casual" vs "hardcore" argument, but fucking Tetris had more variety and interesting gameplay then this. It's like playing something like Dragon Lair where all you do is press buttons every once and a while to not die, except their is no dieing, the buttons are marked for you, and there isn't any interesting cartoon slapstick to make things at least partly entertaining. This is a minigame at best. There is nothing wrong with having some rhythm-based gameplay elements, but why can't we have something interesting to do with them like maybe in RPG combat like Mother 3 or Shadow Hearts, not a long string of them in a row for no reason. Plus if you want MUSIC games, why not hook up real guitars though midi interfaces and actually PLAY THE NOTES and not beat on colored dotes on a cheep plastic stick.

Okay I admit, I never played any of these games, and I probably never will, so maybe there is more too it then I let on. But I doubt it. Can we please, please, just stop buying and making the stupid things and let if fade into an embarrassing fad and move on to making games that actually have gameplay?

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gimme a Chrono Break!

Lately I have been playing the DS port of Chrono Trigger a bunch. I basically won the game and did all the extra side quests but I have yet to get all the endings (not that it matters, since I know what they are anyway), and now I am going to make my expected post-game rant.

So Chrono Trigger. It's a game. A RPG in fact. One of the best SNES-era RPGs in most people's opinion. And it's about time travel.

Now I have a deep seated hate for time travel and any fiction related to it. Mostly because I have always felt time travel is an impossibly idiotic concept, full of paradoxes, miss-interpretations of physics, and philosophical absurdities. Just take the good old fashioned Grandfather Paradox. Worse is it usually completely denies the whole concept of free will and in a way even consciousness. But I am not going to get into that now. Yeah, you managed to get out of one of my long metaphysical ramblings... this time.

With Chrono Trigger though, I can mostly forgive for all this time travel stuff, because for the most part, it isn't a time travel story, it is a story with time travel in it. Time travel is almost used exclusively to get the party from one adventure to the next and for some gimmicks in side quests. It doesn't usually dwell on paradoxes and such, and when it does feature them, it does it in a manner that's far different then you might expect.

See, Chrono Trigger is a fantasy at heart, not sci-fi. And as a fantasy, the way time works is completely different then how sci-fi treats time. In the game there is the recurring theme of "dreams", and a mysterious entity called... well... "The Entity" that the characters think might be responsible for the gates that are used to travel into different time periods. The main villain is a sort of eldritch abomination alien named Lavos who landed on the planet in a meteor in prehistoric times and will eventually destroy the world millions of years later. Upon finding out this, the heroes who stumbled into time gates to the distant future where the planet is a ruined wasteland decide to prevent this fate and change history somehow. During this quest they set for themselves they begin to theorize that the gates were opened for them so they would change the future, and the gates led to places in history impotent to some entity who made them. They use the analogy of a person neer death having his life played back before them with all the things they regret. Some online have said this entity could be the planet it's self (though there is a character in the game who could be it).

Time travel in Chrono Trigger then is more like visiting dreams and rewriting bits of a story. The time-line is not a linear line of cause and effect, but more like memories that get retconed or rewritten into something else. There are people and places that exist "outside time" and the heroes don't so much change history as much as insert new history which overwrites the old. It even becomes more apparent in the squeal which involves two parallel worlds. It's not that it is like the many-worlds theory where the time-line splits for each event and there are millions of possible worlds (even though there is some indications that there may be many more worlds then just the two), rather both timelines are like different alternate versions of the same story, or if you go back to the entity in the first game, two different ways of remembering the same thing, the truth of which in the end will be found from both. Even another version of those events exists in the form of Radical Dreamers, a little side story text-adventure like game (which Is really well written BTW).

I get the feeling reading though some people's theories about the series online, that people miss the important thematic element of dreams and memories and try and apply science and time travel theory (all of which if you ask me is bogus) to the games. I think this is kind of missing the point. Unlike most time travel stories, Chrono Trigger consciousness and free will first. The world and time is merely a backdrop that can change. Even in the one part where a grandfather paradox situation that caused one character to not be born existed, she was not simply erased, but but elsewhere, outside of time... even if it was a cold dark void, she still experienced it and existed. Every other time history changed it was only the memory and situation that changed. I think thats why Chrono Trigger is one of the best time travel stories to me... it's approach to time is much more humanistic and not fatalistic. It's still a bit hard on people who can't time travel though.

Actually it sort of reminds me of the show Quantum Leap only without being mindlessly dull and without having Scott Bakula in drag. Though it does have someone else in drag, but they actually look good in it.

Anyway, before I stop, I want to quickly rant about the gameplay in the game and it's sequels. I could go on in more detail about the story (especially for Chrono Cross which becomes very very complex and hard to follow after a while) but the actual details of the story really arn't a big deal for me. There are a few interesting bits and plot twists sure, but what story doesn't have some these days eh? Especially in a square RPG. The gameplay details are the things that really stand out to me, because they are the most original part of both Chrono Trigger and Chrono Cross.

Chrono Trigger it's self used the "Action Time Battle" system used in a lot of Final Fantasy games, but with a twist. Unlike most ATB systems, Chrono Trigger had everything be done on the map screen with large animated map sprites for enemies. No loading (except the crappy psx version), no swirly battle, no random encounters. You see an enemy show up, WAM! Fight begins. Not only that, but enemies move around and a lot of your moves relied on waiting until they lined up in such a way that you could hit a bunch at once with an area attack. The thing that always disappointed me though, is although enemies would move about randomly, your characters could not move at all, and you could only really target moves at enemies not at any spot where they might be more effective. I guess I just would like to see a tactical RPG battle in such a quick and well integrated manner, but Chrono Trigger's battles are not very tactically deep aside from timing your attacks in a manner to hit the most enemies, which in of it's self is a welcome addition.

The other original and fun thing is the way you can do moves that involve multible people, the "doubletechs" and "tripletechs". They are a nice way to give you a lot more situational moves depending on who is in your party at the time. My only problem with them, the whole "tech" system that gives you moves, is how they are learned. Each character has "techs" they learn when they gain enough "tech points" from defeating monsters. The problem is, there is no customization, and each character only learns a set of moves in a linear list. Once you learn all of them, that's pretty much the extent of building your character asides stat grinding and equipment. The "doubletechs" and "tripletechs" are learned simply by having the characters who know the required moves that they use win a battle while in the party together. Thats it. Oh I guess some of the triples need you to hold a rock for some reason but whatever. It's all so simple. Way too simple if you ask me.

Oddly, each character has a different element type that shows up next to their name on the menu, except the ones who can't use magic, who just have it blank. But that element thing? It means nothing. There is magic, but "magic" is just a "tech" with a star in front of the name and doesn't have any other difference except most characters have to visit someone to be able to learn any (and all non-magic techs on the list past the first magic). After that you just learn it by grinding for tech points like everything else. You would think you would be able to learn or equip magic that matched your type but no. There is even two characters that use the "water" element, but one uses ice-based attacks and the other actual water-based attacks which do the same thing but look different. They also have one spell that is alike but no others. One character you get late in the game can use 3 spells other characters have but gets no doubletechs and only a few tripletechs that aren't like anyone else's despite that those spells are used in other people's multitechs. Of course he isn't really a team player, but still. Why not give a tiny bit more freedom with spells and have miltitechs linked to skills not player? Eh, I guess it's just a nitpick. Oddly another game in a different series by the same company known as Romancing SaGa 3 did do this... sorta... but it was only in a limited fashion.

Now let's talk about the squeal. Chrono Cross is... completely and utterly different in every way. No more ATB, no more same-map battles, no more careful positioning, it's much more like a standard RPG, but with a few oddities, like the way time flows. In Chrono Cross, each of your party members has stamina and an "element" meter. You can attack basically as much as you like in a row and your stamina will go down. Enemies just interrupt you every once and a while with an attack as you hack away at them. Every time you do anything your other party member's stamina goes up. You can switch between three party members to have them attack while the other guy rests. You can also skip a while to recover everyone's stamina. When someone hits something they gain some power on the element meter. Elements are magic equipped on a grid that has slots for them in different levels. You can equip any type of element magic, but each character has a type they prefer which is more effective, while the opposite is less. Some magic requires higher levels which usually have less slots, but you do have some freedom to put it a few levels lower (and it gets weaker) or a few higher (and it gets stronger). Now when you gain power on your element meter in battle from hitting bad guys, it adds up and you can cast elements. The more power, the higher level element you can cast, and the higher level, the more it costs. When you cast one in a slot, it can't be used again till the next battle, so you need to equip more then one of any type to use it more then once. And thats not even getting into field effects and summoning. It actually isn't that hard to figure out in practice though, and is kind of interesting.

But it of course, has problems. Besides the fact it's way different to not even the first game but basically ANY game I mean. I never much cared for having magic be something you buy and equip (even in Final Fantasy 7, even if like everything else about it's gameplay). I mean yes, it's customization, unlike the first game, but now too much so, to the point everyone is almost the same. The few techs that exist just occupy a permanent spot on each character's grid, and there are maybe one or two multitechs in the whole game. Of course with 40+ characters who can join you, I understand not every combination was thought of, but most of those 40+ characters are completely pointless or redundant anyway.

And of course, Radical Dreamers, being little more then a text novel with some menus, isn't really remarkable gameplay-wise. But it does have some randomized encounters and battle scenes, but about the only game play element involved in them is the player has an HP counter that decreases if you choose the wrong thing. Other then that, all battles are just pure choose-your-own-adventure things that have set outcomes for set responses. But the thing is, Radical Dreamers is amazingly well written (or at least the unofficial translation is) and as a result it really doesn't matter. The one complaint I guess is the random encounter segments should have been one-time events or more variable, though there is some randomness involved. Still, by the end you may encounter the same skeleton with the same choices a few times and the urgency in the dialogue seems sort of off.

Man that post may have been my longest yet... maybe I should have split it in two but eh.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Information Nenotechnology

I have done a whole lot of thinking about nanotechnology off and on for the past decade or so. Why? Simply because I think it's going to be the next big thing and may possibility end up solving a lot of problems such as most deceases and even possibly old age. Fears of Grey Goo aside, nothing in science right now provides as many practical benefits.

What I have been thinking about the most is, if people use nanotechnology to augment themselves dues ex style, or something like that, how would they work? I would assume the idea would be to create blank-state nano-devices that are signaled or given directives or simple tasks... for example programing them to eliminate a class of virus or to alter a body in some way. The two major questions are, how would they make sure it's safe both in case of malfunction and outside tampering, and how would they signal a nanodevice to preform a task?

It is most likely such devices will be preprogrammed for at least the beginning period of there use. But wouldn't it be nice if you could customize your body in the same way you could your iPhone (if you have one, I don't)? Maybe so, but think about it... wouldn't it be possible for people to "hack" your body and do all sorts of nasty things? And what if you load a body Internet virus? And how to you make sure each tiny thing in your body is updated right? Likely at the very least there should be some failsafe, such as completely shutting down all devices in a strong electric field for example. Also there is always the possibility of decay of information and wild mutation, so there should be a crash condition if program checksums are compromised. Ironically, this might be exactly why we age: Our cells mutate and could turn harmful, so if they are mutated they sometimes just shut down.

On actually preforming tasks, nanodevices would probably be much like normal body cells or viruses and act in similar ways. How do viruses find cells to infect? How do white blood cells find viruses? How do bacteria do things? I really am not an expect on such things but I think a nanodevice should probably be something very close. Now not all bacteria and even possibly viruses are actually harmful. We have a hell of a lot of them inside us at any time, and many of them are good for us. There is no reason to assume any more would hurt that much.

In any case, it's way to early to say if nanotechnology will live up to it's promise, and even if it does, I doubt it will do all of the things it does in fiction. So we will have to see.

Also, stem cell research is good too.