Thursday, December 27, 2012

Half-Life 2 episodes

Never mind HL2 Episode 3 becoming a new Duke Nukem Forever... I'm not here to talk about that.

I'm here to talk about the naming of the trilogy. I have never understood it.

After the success of Half-Life 2, Valve started developing a direct continuation to it, in the form of smaller games in an "episodic" format. The original intention was that instead of spending two or three years to make one big game, they would publish smaller games at a faster pace. Of course we all know what happened to those plans (while Episode 1 was slightly delayed, it was more or less in par with the plans; Episode 2 was way, way delayed; but neither compares to the ridiculous delay with the third one) but as said, I'm not here to talk about the delays.

From almost the very beginning Valve announced that when the three episodes got published, they would effectively constitute Half-Life 3. So it puzzles me to no end why exactly they are named "Half-Life 2 Episode 1" etc. when they should be quite obviously called "Half-Life 3 Episode 1" etc. They make up HL3, so it would only make sense to call them that. The first game is the "first episode" of HL3, and so on, so why not name it as it is?

Naming them "Half-Life 2 Episode X" only caused confusion. In fact, even today it still causes some confusion among many people who are not so hardcore players (and might not have played the episodes.) They do not really know what the name implies. It sounds like some kind of remake, or even prequel, to Half-Life 2. In fact, the naming would really make a lot more sense if they were prequels.

That naming scheme makes absolutely no sense for a direct continuation to the story.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Air guitar

There are many hobbies that people engage in, and that do not require much talent or expertise. The main point is that they are fun. In some cases these hobbies may be fun to watch too.

Air guitar is not, in my opinion, of the latter kind.

It may be fun to prance around in the rhythm of a groovy guitar solo and pretend to play an imaginary guitar, but watching it is not very fun. It actually looks ridiculous.

Pretending to play a guitar is not a talent, it does not show anything interesting, and in fact it looks ridiculous and obscene. At least with a real guitar it doesn't look like you are playing with yourself, but without it... It just looks horrible, and I really don't want to watch that.

What's worse, some people take it way too seriously. Heck, there are world championships of air guitar. WTF?

People argue that it's all about the show. Fine, but if you want a dance show, then make it a dance show, not a pretend-guitar-playing show that doesn't require talent, looks ridiculous and, what's worse, obscene.

I don't want to watch that. Give me either a dance show or a real guitar shredding show, not this.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Music legends get a free pass

In the world of music, there have been and are really extraordinary talented performers who have contributed more than just music and songs, but have helped pioneer entire styles and genres. They are truly music legends, the people who set the standards, who not only composed and performed individual songs, but who developed music styles further and even invented entirely new forms.

Such legendary musicians often get such a cult status that they get a free pass on everything they have done, even if it doesn't really compare all that well to later developments. Criticizing their work, comparing it as inferior to later works, seems tantamount to blasphemy.

To take one particular example, consider the song Unchain My Heart, originally performed by Ray Charles, and later covered by Joe Cocker.

Ray Charles enjoys such a legendary cult status. He was certainly a pioneer of soul music, and helped define an entire new genre. Thus it's no wonder that many people will say things like "yeah, Cocker's cover of the song is good, but I like the original Ray Charles' version better."

I honestly don't understand this. I have listened to both versions, and I just can't help but consider Cocker's cover better in all possible counts. The arrangement is better, the tempo is better, the instruments are better, it's groovier, Cocker's singing voice is better, even the backing vocalists are better. I can't find a single thing that I would consider better in the original Ray Charles version.

The fact is, if Cocker's version had been original (ie. Ray Charles had never performed it), and later someone else came up with a cover that's exactly like the Ray Charles version, every single person in the universe would consider it significantly worse. However, since it's Ray Charles who performed the original, he automatically gets a free pass and is beyond all criticism. His version is automatically "better", no matter how weak in comparison.

No disrespect to Ray Charles, but I think people should be slightly more objective, stop putting people in such pedestals, and not give performances a special status and exceptions simply because a musical legend was the first to preform them.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Nancy Drew: Curse of Blackmoor Manor

This is not something that grinds my gears. On the contrary, the video game Nancy Drew: Curse of Blackmoor Manor is in fact a little gem.

I bought this game on Steam because they were having a sale, and it cost just a few euros. At first I was disappointed, but then it became quite engaging.

The thing about this game is that probably at least 90% of gamers nowadays would not like it. It's way, way too difficult for casual gamers, and most HC gamers would probably get turned off by it because it feels technologically so antiquated. This game was released in 2004 for Windows, yet feels like a DOS game from the early 90's. It consists of pre-rendered still images and short FMVs, with no sprites, 3D models or anything else. Even its screen resolution is fixed at 640x480. In fact, if you were to remove the voice samples, it could quite well pass for a DOS game from 1994 rather than from 2004.

And as said, most casual gamers wouldn't like it either because it's so damn difficult. How difficult? Think of Myst. Really hard, obscure puzzles that sometimes even require writing things on physical paper (or, as I did, take screenshots with your cellphone camera so that you can consult them while playing.) Hints are often subtle and quite hard to get. In a few cases you have to more guess because it's not explicitly and unambiguously hinted.

Yet every single puzzle, as difficult as they are, is actually solvable by deducing from the hints you get. There aren't, in fact, any puzzles where you have to just blindly try all possible combinations or anything like that, as long as you realize which other detail in the game was actually a hint for the solution.

The thing is, it can be really difficult, but it's quite rewarding when you finally figure it out. In fact, I set to finish the game without reading any walkthrough or anything. Just by playing. And I succeeded. Game finished, I solved every single puzzle myself, and properly at that. (Steam recorded my total playing time as 20 hours, although part of that was spent on the pause screen.)

I think this is a little gem of a game which unfortunately not many people will appreciate, especially nowadays, where everything has to be either really casual, or more action-driven.