Monday, August 30, 2010

Can't Help But See Democrats vs. Republicans, Commies vs. Capitalists, etc.

I can't help but think Democrats vs. Republicans, Commies vs. Capitalists, etc.

We have so many group beliefs that don't include a rational means for reaching agreement.

One wonders what our species (or at least civilization's) chances are for long term survival.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Initail Impressions of StarCraft 2

To me, SC has always been about the multiplayer experience, since the computer AI really rewarded cautious defense in the past, (a tradition continued in SC2) and the comp never showed or shows the tactical creativity of human opponents. Like many chess programs, (including good ones) it trains players to develop bad habits which would not work in "real" games. Thus, my focus has been on the multiplayer, which now I have actually stopped playing. Why? In trying to develop good Protoss tactics, (I had over 10k wins on the old BN with that race) I lost about 20 matches in a row to Terran Reaper rushes merely in the practice league. I tried static and mobile defense (Z's, Stalkers), rush attacks, and the only response on the boards appears to be early probe scouting which is not possible on maps with obstruction that are in the practice league maps.

It might be possible to test some strategies in the regular league, but if the player tries to skip practice for such a "real" league test, they are forever locked out of practice league! It's astonishingly bad, like the recommended solution to login problems is to check the BN boards, which require login!

It is a bit hard to believe that such admin functions and unbalanced advantages like Reaper Rush could be missed by any *competent* testing effort. I think layers of highly-paid management directing starving programmers, designers and testers in a hierarchical, tightly authoritarian structure has failed the gaming community in a typically predatory way.

I can't let my daughters learn SC on an alternate account, I can't change my username, the game and the website have conflicting definitions of "account name", the cinema CGI is 10 years out of date, (e.g.: Raynor's silly-looking drinks). The dialog writing is childish and cliched. There are no chat rooms. I don't know if multi-player settings allow no rush games, but I cannot ally people who fought well and I want to award a draw rather than give them a loss. The 3D camera rotation movements demonstrated and promised in promotional videos doesn't exist, and the 3D modeling that is left only serves as an obstacle to quick & precise placement of structures. Speaking of which: the pylon power grid for where buildings can be placed is hexagonal, conflicting with the square grid of the surface used for actual building placement.

The game's button for "Online Guide" takes you to a web page which actually tries to sell you the game used to access the page! Speaking of which: the online guide has no search function, so if you want to find out if chat rooms are available, you cannot search for a specific term like "chat room" or "speed money maps".

Structures are more ornate & complicated, but this frequently makes quickly distinguishing them more difficult, especially when the overall shapes are similar to each other and the useless, pseudo-3D enables tall buildings like the Dark Tower to obscure surface features behind it. When targeting a Colosus, does one click on its body (high) or its feet? If either works, can it make something behind tall units unclickable? Probably. Everything relating to this may not be definitely "bad", but some features certainly are, and the expression "gilding the lily" cannot help but come to mind. The 'toss Mothership is a joke, and lacks abilities shown and advertised in the promos. Removing of chat rooms is, IMO, inexcusably incompetent. In fact, there are so many errors, omissions and blunders in the final product, its a shock for many that after 12 years and tons of money on "development", so much of the design has regressed backwards. I admit my standards are high, but this was the standard Blizzard set for itself, it is what they advertised and promised, and their failure to deliver justifies their loss of credibility.

Will we be able to have a vibrant map community? Speed money maps? Clans? Other features that have been disabled/removed? I don't know, and I'm starting not to care. I mean, come on: they took away Mind Control, the most advanced capability of the 'toss, and replaced it with nothing comparable I can detect - contrary to the steady hype we've been hearing for years about every race advancing. Warp Rays seem like a dim shadow of the original Scouts, which could take on fleets of Carriers when fully upgraded. One of my favorite tactics was to park Scouts over Cannons to face incoming Carriers to drain the enemy's mineral reserves as they produced Fighters in an attempt to smash through a well protected base perimeter. Speaking of maps and base layout, Blizzard now "improved" the system in such a way that "players can only access multiplayer maps by connecting to Blizzard's tightly policed and centrally managed online service". Totalitarian or free and open? You decide.

People who think the above choice seems unfairly harsh may want to consider Blizzard's official statements, such as community manager Bashiok, bragging online that the corporation can completely control what people say, do, and it even deletes maps that anonymous employees or contractors remove entirely from the online system for sharing maps, and Blizzard maintains it has no obligation to tell the authors and creators anything, nor to explain why players work was destroyed and their expression silenced. How does Bashiok justify this? You have to read the propaganda to believe it: he claims their corporation now has the "size and ability to enforce these types of things"!  Speaking of maps: did you know that even when they are tolerated, they are locked from being shared across regions?  This prevents global collaboration where maps can evolve freely and rapidly based on the best most creative ideas.  In Blizzard's wet dream of total control of map publishers and even the complete outlawing of players simply getting together for LAN party play, no innovation is tolerated unless it fits Big Brother's mold.

Back on technical usability: the game continually forgets my BN login information, and there is no way to review and discuss games afterward with fellow players. What kind of organizers prohibit people from talking to each other unless the organizers control the topics and content? Are such restrictions more supportive of individual creativity and flourishing or the tyrannical control typical of those who are so insecure, they cannot tolerate free speech?

The instructions for chat state that you can chat with friends. How do you make friends? The instructions mistakenly direct you to "Right-click on their name wherever you see them to add them as a character friend, enabling you to chat, send invites, and check out their character profile." After a recent game, I wanted to discuss the match with "Eggman", and *perhaps* become friends. I don't really know this player, and he left as soon as my attack reached his primary base. On the replay, I see his name and right click to add him (since I can't locate him, msg him to meet in a chat room, etc.) and as I see his name in this location, the right click does absolutely nothing. After a while, don't such large number of incompetent mistakes in planning, execution, delivery, and documentation significantly erode the value? Where were the project managers overseeing the process? Unless one deliberately closes their eyes and buries their head in the sand, it would seem impossible to give this game a 5 star rating. GameSpot gave it a 9.5, with a video review that, AFAICT refers to only a couple of flaws in order to gloss them over.

I admit the few campaign missions I've played are fun and interesting. (I'm saving them for lots of international flights coming up.) I like the bar room interactions and achievements, but core components of game operations, graphics, race balance and other defects fatally flaw the game, IMO. Outright hostile restriction of players while loudly claiming "customer satisfaction is a top priority" and failure to meet promises with the product itself do seem to warrant low ratings of the game.

Aspen Music Festival: Music with a View Concert

Distinguished theory and performance teacher provides expert knowledge during " Music with a View "at the Aspen Art Museum