Saturday, December 18, 2010

Best of 2010!

It's that time of year! Here's a list of everything awesome in 2010.

Yotsuba&! volumes 7 and 8. Yotsuba&!, by Kiyohiko Azuma of Azumanga Daioh fame, is about a little girl Yotsuba, her daddy, her neighbors, and various other characters all getting into misadventures. Rather like AzuDai, it's all about the characters. Azuma is uncannily good at character writing: they're all fantastic and they all work unbelievably well together. And it's so goddamn happy. You can't feel so down that a volume of Yotsuba&! won't help; it's a psychological impossibility. Do yourself a favor. Brave the pimply teenagers at your local book depot's manga section long enough to pick up a copy of Yotsuba&! volume one. If it's not one of the best things you've ever read, you can punch me in the face.

Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour was going to be my runner up, It was easily the weakest in the series. Nice, satisfying ending, though.

By far my favorite album of 2010 was sadnes' Fill My Head. Go on, click the link! It's a free (Creative Commons, even) download. Chiptuney goodness, good vocals, competent guitar work, and an absolutely mindblowing closing track.

Runners up are LehtMoJoe's Spaghetti Western and A_Rival's 8-bit Pimp. Go ahead, click those links too. You can listen to both those entire albums freely courtesy of the awesome folks at Magnatune. The former was a solid spaz-hop album and would be right at home in, say, a Jet Grind Radio game. The latter was hilarious, brilliant, catchy chiphop.

Gaming is always tricky, because there's just so many awesome games. I've broken it down by system, omitting any systems I don't play or didn't have any significant releases. Of course, this is limited to games I actually played, and I'm sure you'll notice a lot of rather high-profile games are omitted.

Blazblue: Continuum Shift. Kinda a slow year for the PS3. My favorite game was a tweak/sequel of a 2009 game. Then again, there are several awesome-looking PS3 games I just didn't get to (namely, 3D Dot Game Heroes, Bayonetta, and Atelier Rorona.) My runner up for the PS3 was the fantasticly awesome and hilarious downloadable game Costume Quest. The gameplay wasn't anything amazing, but snappy dialogue and a fun concept made up for it. "You remind me of my parents, from whom I am BITTERLY ASTRANGED! *attacks*"

Ys 7. The newest installment of a classic and awesome action RPG series, what's not to love? Plus, an absolutely awesome soundtrack and a really great collector's edition. My runner up was Lunar: Silver Star Harmony, which came in second only because it's a remake. I have a soft spot for the Lunar series, and SSH was a very worthy remake. Sure, the new voice actors were a bit difficult to get used to, and the game was stupidly easy. But it's still Lunar, and the redone music was worth the price of admission alone. I'll bee arr bee, I need to go light a candle on my altar to Noriyuki Iwadare.

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey. I really like Megaten games. The creepy settings, the high difficulty level, the customizability through demon fusion, even the story sometimes. The story of SMT:SJ wasn't fantastic, but it had everything else that makes a great Megaten game. The biggest surprise was the soundtrack. It didn't sound a bit like Shoji Meguro's previous work, but it was really great anyway. My runner up was Dragon Quest IX, which I really expected to be first. It was just...not everything I was expecting. It was too easy, and DQ players are too sparse in the US to take advantage of the multiplayer, which was by far the biggest draw of the game. (I wanted Megaman Zero Collection to be the runner up, but I just can't do that with a compilation of older, if still completely awesome, games.)

Sin and Punishment: Star Successor. Fun, awesome, amazing, and nonsensical. It was hardcore without being all in-your-face about it. It was maddeningly difficult without being impossible. It was pretty much the perfect Treasure game, which is the best praise I can give it. My runner up was Kirby's Epic Yarn. I'll be honest, I enjoyed Super Mario Galaxy 2 more, but I appreciate Kirby's Epic Yarn more. It's a console Kirby game (rare enough) that tried something new and pulled it off. For this category, I have a second runner up: Cave Story. A Metroid-esque explore-y platformer with an awesome story, and even more awesome pixel art and chiptunerific music.

PC (Proprietary)
Recettear: An Item Shop's Tale. An RPG from the other side of the counter. The day-by-day formula is just as addicting as in Harvest Moon or the later Persona games, the dungeon crawling is solid, and I love the concept. The music was catchy, and the characters were hilarious. It was a game that I found very hard to put down. My runner up is Runman Race Around the World. (Go ahead, click! It's a free download!) Yeah, I know, it's technically a 2009 release. But I find that I don't care. It's just that good. A fun, cheerful little platformer. The MSPaint aesthetic is actually really great, and I enjoyed the public domain tunes more than I should have. (Yes, I played Super Meat Boy. Yeah, I enjoyed Runman that much more. Doesn't help that the unpatched PC version of SMB left a bad taste in my mouth.)

PC (Open Source/Free Software)
Frogatto and Friends. Wow, I have been blown away. The bar for open source game quality has been set higher. It's an open-world platformer/adventure game starring a frog. Just go download it.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. It had it's problems. A lot of them, actually. It stuck to the books, well, pretty poorly, all things considered. And yet I loved it. It managed to capture the feel of the books, which is something I didn't think possible. Very worth the watch. The runner up is Toy Story 3 for being a solid Pixar movie. I think my biggest gripe was that Pixar seems to be trying to make every movie a little bit of a tear-jerker, to the point where one can see it coming. Didn't make the ending any less bittersweet.

The Tatami Galaxy. (Or, Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei.) It was one of those rare gems not quite like anything else, in any way, be it style or content. (Incidentally, ignore the official summary. I think the flunky who wrote it watched maybe 15 minutes of the first episode. Here's a better one.)It is based on a novel, and it is about a college student who is looking for that rose-colored campus life and a raven-haired maiden to spend it with. At the beginning of every episode, he is a freshman joining a university organization. By the end of each episode, two years have passed, things are not the way he wanted, and he goes back in time to change his mind. Only, he's never more than subconsciously aware that he has gone back in time at all. Very good watch, and the whole thing is watchable, streaming legally, via the link provided above.

Runner up: Sora no Woto. (Or, Sound of the Skies.) A retro-post-apocalyptic slice-of-life series about the most useless division in the entire army. It's World War...IV? Far from the front lines, there is a rather ceremonial division that still manages to be impacted by the horrors of war. It starts out cutesy, has some truly beautiful moments, and then ends rather abruptly. One of my favorite parts about the show was there's a lot of little things to notice. Things the characters say offhand that completely change your perception of the setting. It's worth a watch, and, like before, the whole show can be seen for free (legally!) at the above link.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


So, for most of my life on the internet, I've considered gamers to be "my people." No longer. I stopped reading Kotaku a while back because all of its posts and comments fell neatly into three categories: "Semi-relevant pop culture references masquerading as news," "Memes," and "Waaaah, other people don't understand us because they don't play video games!"

It suddenly occurred to me that every website dedicated to general gaming (that I've ever discovered) has become Kotaku. I am tired of seeing posts consisting of either nothing relevent or idiocy, with a comments thread full of worse. And this is coming from a guy who's been a Slashdot regular for at least a decade.

I am forced to realize that gamers in general aren't "my people" any more than anime fans in general are "my people." They're just a collection consisting mostly of idiots with whom I share a hobby.

My name is Zack Sarver, and I refuse to identify myself as a gamer. I'm just a guy on the internet who likes video games. (But if anyone happens to know of an awesome general gaming community, I'm all ears.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sonic 4 First Impressions/Mini Review

There's been a lot of talk about Sonic 4 just cashing in on the trend in nostalgia gaming. Of course it is. That's pretty obvious, but in many ways Sonic games needed to take a step back anyway. The only truly great mainline Sonic games in the last decade were portable 2D platformers developed by DIMPS. In contrast, the only great Sonic game Sonic Team has developed recently was Sonic Adventure, 11 years ago.

But in many ways, Sonic 4 was too many steps back. The Sonic Advance and Sonic Rush games returned the series to its roots while also bringing some much needed innovation. Sonic Rush in particular is now one of my favorite games because of the addition of boosting and the boost gauge. Sonic 4, though, keeps only on of the innovations from the latest 2D Sonic games, and that's the homing dash. But enough rambling, let's break this game down category-style.

The music of Sonic 4 is deliberately nostalgic, and painfully so. Although the game was composed by Jun Senoue, it's far from his best work. Anyone who has played recent Sonic games knows that Jun Senoue's best work is when he's free from stylistic limitations. If he's free to use whatever instruments he pleases, we get excellent synth-rock tunes to enjoy for hours. However, when he's limited to Genesis synth samples, well, we get something that sounds like Sonic 3 and Knuckles, only less catchy. The game does have a few tunes that I'll be humming in the future, and none of the songs are outright bad, but they aren't great either.

The Sonic Advance games are beautiful. Gorgeous pixel art with a ridiculous number of frames of animation. Sonic Rush less so, having replaced lots of sprites with cel-shaded 3D models, but still rather pleasing, with nice levels and backgrounds. Sonic 4 isn't bad-looking, but it's rather..plastic. Everything in the game looks like mid-90s prerendered CG. Lots of bright colors, and very well-animated, but no style. Meh at best.

The designers of this game have never heard of the conservation of momentum. The physics are just plain weird. Releasing the d-pad at any time feels like some sort of punishment, because you will come to a halt immediately, even in mid-air. Every platformer has some amount of mid-air direction change, but this is ridiculous. Add to that some weirdly inconsistent homing mechanics. Heaven forbid you go a pixel past the center of the object, because you'll dash forward instead of at the object that still has a homing target painted on it. And then there's Sonic's ridiculously slow acceleration; something that had been completely fixed in Sonic Rush.

The level design is top-notch, exactly what I expected from DIMPS. It has a rather Sonic Advance 2 feel to it, with lots of areas to run around like crazy and lots of platforming to be done. Thankfully the random fun-breaking mini-boss fights from Sonic Rush are gone. The level themes, though, are again too much on the side of nostalgia. It's like they took the most iconic zones from Sonic 1 and 2 (Green Hill, Casino Night, Labyrinth, Metropolis, and Death Egg) and reworked them. Although the layouts are more or less new, there just wasn't a trace of originality in any of them.

The boss-fights are frequently complained-about, but I can't understand why. They're quite solid and familiar with new twists. Generally they're divided into two phases; one ripped straight from a Genesis game and one completely new. The completely new phases are good fun, and there is even a running boss, which DIMPS does so well.

Left to do is get all the Chaos Emeralds. I'll probably add some comments when I do that.

Despite all my complaining, Sonic 4 is a really solid game. It's easily the best Sonic console release (discounting ports) since 1999. The worst thing about the game is that while DIMPS Sonic games have consistently taken at least one step forward, Sonic 4 feels like two steps forward, one step back. The physics needs a major overhaul, and they need to tone down the nostalgia. Really, I get the feeling that if DIMPS had been left to their own devices, we would have gotten something just as amazing as Sonic Advance 2 or Sonic Rush. As it is, I see a heck of a lot of wasted potential.

Still, I give the game 8/10. If you loved the Genesis games and missed out on the Sonic Advance/Rush series, you'll have the time of your life. Otherwise, you'd be better off replaying Sonic's DIMPS-developed portable adventures.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World Impressions

I just got back from the midnight showing. But first, some cred. I started reading the books around two years ago, right before the fifth volume came out. I can't count how many times I've reread them. What follows contain minor spoilers that only really make sense if you've read the books in the first place.

So the flaws. It's not so much that it deviated the comic, it's that the movie mutated the comic. There would be scenes that would be the same except one of the characters is different. For example, most of the elements of Romona vs. Envy are now in Romona vs. Roxy. Or scenes that are the same except they're not quite in the same chronological order, like Romona vs. Knives. And of course, there were things left out for time, including Honest Ed's, which was one of the most delightfully surreal parts of the comic. And there were other things that were just overly simplified, like Kyle and Ken Katayanagi.

And now the good parts. EVERYTHING. Oh. Em. Gee. Best comic adaptation I've ever seen. Just amazingly awesome. They just nailed most of the characters. Michael Cera makes a much better Scott Pilgrim than I thought he would. Wallace Wells and Kim Pine and Knives Chau and Ramona Flowers and Gideon Graves and Todd Ingram were absolutely perfect. Steven Stills, not so much. Too goofy. But still awesome. The soundtrack was kickass, and the visuals were clever as hell.

It boils down to, are you alive? Then go see the movie.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How I Accidentally Wrangled My Social Networking Services

There's a lot of social networking and microblogging going on, and I was having trouble with it. I've been on Facebook since it was restricted to college students, and I use it to keep up with irl friends and a couple of internet friends. I'm relatively new to Twitter, and I use it to keep up with webcomics people and GNU/Linux people and a couple of irl friends. I've been using Buzz diligently, because it's rather convenient and I wish people would switch to it despite the privacy concerns. (Let's face it: Google has all of our information already anyway.) On Buzz, I have a couple of irl friends. Buzz let me connect my Twitter account to it, so I could just post to Twitter and have something posted to Buzz. So, that brought the number down to two services, Facebook and Twitter. More manageable, but still annoying.

Then, the other day I was listening to an older episode of FLOSS that I had somehow missed, and one of the hosts mentioned as "the open source Twitter." I became intrigued and visited the website. Indeed, it seemed to be an open Twitter. All content is Creative Commons licensed, and it was built on the open source StatusNet software. I signed myself up using OpenID.

Upon fiddling about with the settings, I discovered that I could connect to both my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Score! What I didn't expect but found delightful is that Buzz then grabbed my Twitter post that Twitter had grabbed from

So, there you have it. I can now update every single social networking service I use thanks to the power of open source software. Sure, I guess I could have installed one of those fancy programs that lets you update everything... but I regularly use three different computers and operating systems, as well as one smartphone. Instead of finding four different programs, I can now use one web interface. On top of which, I've a feeling that will introduce me to people from the open source community all over the world.

And besides, if rms uses, then it has to be good stuff.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


I had an interesting insight into the way my mind works tonight.

A cave cricket got into my mother's house this evening. You know, those fairly creepy crickets that scare the daylights out of most people because of their resemblance to spiders. However, cave crickets don't bother me at all, and I'm quite the arachnophobe. Ask any of my friends or family who have seen me climbing onto tables and counters and screaming as a spider approaches me. I really wish I was exaggerating.

I examined this cave cricket, let's call him Gary, for some time, and I took the opportunity to compare him to my deepest nightmares to see what exactly it was that kept my mind from freaking out at his spider-like countenance as opposed to an actual spider. To start with, I've know for some time that the number of legs doesn't matter. Scorpions also have eight legs, and they've never bothered me.

The first thing I noticed was that I could clearly see Gary's eyes, which led me to the realization that it freaks me out that I can't see spiders' eyes without getting close to them. You can tell which way I spider is looking by the build of its body, but you can't see any eyes! It's absolutely terrifying. I'm no psychologist, but my theory is that my brain is more ready and willing to anthropomorphize something with a clear face. Spiders, lacking a clear face, are therefore alien and lie too far on the wrong side of the uncanny valley.

Secondly, I gained a good bit of insight by watching Gary move. When he hopped about in a cricket-like manner, everything was fine and dandy. But for the brief period of time that he crawled in a rather more spider-like fashion, my brain started raising red flags, and I felt myself beginning to freak out. It would seem that I'm fine with hopping and scuttling and running and crawling, but as soon as I see that freakish, sinuous, undulating crawl with which spiders typically move, it bugs me. Pun intended, I'm sorry. And, come to think of it, jumping spiders have never bothered me as much as their crawling kin.

It's possible that there are more things about spiders which freak me out, but for now, I feel comfortable that I've narrowed the main reasons down to the two above. I suspect the lack of a clear face is something that bothers most people, but it's possible the fear of their movement is a more unique response. Maybe my brain has just learned to associate that sort of movement with spiders, and thus reacts as though there were a spider present, even when not.

Fun times! Knowledge is power, and maybe as I continue to figure my brain out, I can get more use out of it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Windows 7 - A Rant

Windows 7 has really been getting on my nerves. There are things going on with it that shouldn't be going on with it, especially since you have to pay so much for it. And disclaimer, I do have a degree in computer science, so I know a good bit of what I'm talking about.

My current computing setup is triple. I have a relatively modern desktop running Windows 7, a six year old laptop running Debian stable, and a five year old iMac G5 running Mac OS 10.5.

Allow me to post the basic specs of my desktop and laptop to make the sins of Windows 7 more apparent.

Desktop, "Randgriz"
CPU: AMD Athlon 64 x2 3000+
RAM: 1.5GB generic
Secondary Storage: 420 GB across two SATA 3.0 Gb/s drives
OS: Windows 7 Professional, cost, free (courtesy of the university)

Laptop, "Finney"
CPU: Intel Celeron M 1.6 GHz
RAM: 1.5GB generic
Secondary Storage: 80 GB IDE drive
OS: Debian GNU/Linux Stable, cost, free (courtesy of the open source movement)
Window Manager/Desktop Environment: Windowmaker/GNUStep

Note that the laptop is clearly inferior in every way, shape, and form. I'm going to skip the petty little differences in user interface, bash vs. PowerShell, et cetera, and get to the real meat and potatoes of what's inexcusable.

Technical Issues
Occasionally I make the mistake of trying to use Windows 7 the way I use GNU/Linux. With Finney, I find myself able to run dozens of programs, both GUI and command line, simultaneously without any noticeable performance hit. Sure, my little system resources monitor will go a bit crazy, but the system is still perfectly usable. Typically, I'm running Firefox (Iceweasel, actually) with several tabs open, mpd (music player daemon) with MPDCon, a system resources dockapp, emacs, gnus, and maybe nethack or Dwarf Fortress under wine.

In Windows 7, god help me if I try to run more than two applications simultaneously. I wish I were joking. It takes upwards of 30 seconds to launch an application in the first place, and if I have more than about three windows open, I'm screwed. The system approaches complete unresponsivity. And if I want to install a program, well, I might as well go make a sandwich, because I won't be using the computer for half an hour.

Granted, Windows has always had admittedly bad resource management. Windows can't schedule IO worth a crap. Any and all significant hard drive access will slow most Windows systems noticeably, but this is absolutely ridiculous. This leads me to the conclusion that Windows 7 somehow manages to have even unbelievably crappier resource management than any operating system I have ever used ever. And I've used more operating systems than most people can name.

Second major technical issue, crappy drivers. So, sitting inside Randgriz is an almost brand new Linksys 802.11 b/g wireless card that is completely useless. Because Windows refuses to acknowledge that it even exists. It worked just fine when I booted Linux on Randgriz. Randgriz outputs video through HDMI to my HDTV. I have never had a problem with video. But the sound craps out frequently. It would seem that about once an hour, Windows 7 forgets that the video card is also a sound card. So I have to reach behind the TV, unplug the HDMI cable, replug the HDMI cable, and suddenly sound works again! What. The. Fbadword. That should never happen in any conceivable universe.

General Evility
Microsoft is a pretty evil company. Seriously. The entry for "Unethical Business Practices" in the encyclopedia should read, "See Microsoft." As if that wasn't bad enough, they're a huge supporter of software patents, the single biggest stifler of innovation in the modern era. But I digress.

I have Windows 7 Professional. Professional. And I like to play around with languages. It's a hobby of mine. But I can't change the system language on Randgriz unless I upgrade to Windows 7 Ultimate. And even then only a measly 35 languages, unlike the dozens and dozens available on any standard Linux distribution.

Artificial feature restriction is nothing short of unethical, especially when it forces people to upgrade to the most expensive version of a tiered program for something that should be a standard feature across the board.

And that's not even going into DRM, security issues, et cetera.

I'm typing this on Finney. My duck is telling me that I'm using about a third of my RAM and hovering around 70% CPU usage with spikes up to 100%. I haven't even noticed. I'm contemplating switching the entire system to Esperanto just because I can.

I hate Windows 7 so hard right now. Thanks for reading.