Pretentious, opinionated language

Games, technology, music, silliness. Oh and ninjas. Lots of ninjas.

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Location: Oslo, Norway

I am Andreas. Day time programmer and technical consultant. Night time musician and game developer.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Akai MPD24 and its crutches


Quick preface: I know i always sound like i hate everything. I don't! I love some things!

I recently had to get a quick replacement for my faulty M-audio Trigger finger MIDI control surface, and the cheapest/nearest alternative was the Akai MPD24.

I haven't used it so much yet, but first impressions are generally good. The hardware itself is weighty and solid, the pads, knobs and faders feel great, and the performance i used it for went down well. Now i've spent a day trying to get used to it, and the thing is just packed with poorly weighted design choices for a general purpose MIDI controller, and if you're looking to buy this thing i think you're entitled to hear about them

Aftertouch with no CC fallback
The vaunted aftertouch for a controller of this sort is a huge misstep. Typically you'll use such a unit with a software sequencer or such and route midi from there. Midi CC, as supported by the Trigger finger, is easily the way to go. The fact of the matter is, you can't use the pressure sensitivity of the MPD24 with any of Ableton Live's effects, nor any other effects on any software that uses CCs for MIDI control mapping. This is a near fatal limitation for me, as the device is used primarily as an effects or DMX controller. The reliance on aftertouch, with no CC alternative, denies me the use of 16 potential controllers on the surface, leaving me with 16 digital switches in their place.

Control knobs with no physical limits
The knobs on the device have no physical limits, nor a center "groove", not letting you check with a light tweak of the knob wether the knob is at an extreme or at a center. Having to actually look at the display to get the current value feels somewhat ridiculous.

"16 levels" mode is pointless
The device has a mode where hitting a switch will map the same pad to all 16 pads and divide their velocity maximum by their pad number. I'm curious as to what situation would require you to play the same note with velocities that precise (yet arbitrary). Particularly for drums!

4 pad bank buttons only alter pad nodes
You get 4 banks of settings to hotswap between during use. Except these don't change CCs for sliders and knobs. Given that the aftertouch basically renders the pads useless for effects use, you're left with 4 sets of 16 digital switches. Not bad if all you want are switches, but there are far better control surfaces available for that exact purpose.

Summary
The MPD24 is, i assume, awesome for whatever purpose the designers at Akai intended for it, but as a general purpose controller it's got some crippling limitations. I just want to make any potential buyers aware of them before comitting; If M-audio's drivers hadn't sucked so bad, i'd actually recommend the Trigger finger.

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Friday, February 15, 2008

Turok logo malarky


Anders Psychofreud makes me painfully aware that this new "edgy" Turok logo actually reads "Turdy". Irony.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Sins of a solar empire, first impressions

What a name. I can think of a lot of names for a game about interstellar conquest, but i doubt i could top this. Sins of a solar empire.. It's got epic poetry to it. Bodes well.

If you haven't been keeping up with this, Sins of a solar empire is a kind of hybrid real time tactics / 4X strategy game, published by Stardock, the same dudes that rolled out Galactic Civilizations 2, and developed by Ironclad, a bunch of ex Rockstar/Barking dog elopers. The pedigree is impressive.

I've been mildly interested in it, mostly for the name, but after actually playing it i realize it's one of those games that will give and keep giving for a long time, and give proportionally to what you invest.

It's staggeringly elegant, incredibly atmospheric, and even though the tech tree looks (and is) somewhat limited, the game offers a preposterous amount of strategizing. Played at a somewhat sedate pace, the game offers real time galactic strategy, with management down to unit level should you want it. The game adopts the same disdain of the minimap as Supreme Commander, letting you zoom smoothly in and out from a galactic view down to the windshield on a fighter ship. It's natural and direct. In addition, the left side of the view is dominated by a abstract "map" of your empire in the form of a tree, branching from celestial bodies. It looks a hellish mess at first glance, but given a little time it becomes indispensable. It's brilliant.

My favorite example of how thoughtful the game is laid out is in its merging of macro with micro.
Colonizing new worlds is typically done with a colony frigate. You can select your frigate, click on the "colonize" button and then on the planet. Or you can just right click on the planet. Or you can just leave the colony frigate in the same system as the planet and do something else; colony ships have their colonize ability defaulting to auto-cast. When your colony is up you can zoom in, choose your construction frigate, choose to make a crystal refinery, then click on an asteroid. Or you can just click on the asteroid and it will have a button that calls the closest available construction frigate in to make a refinery. Or you can zoom out of that solar system altogether and do something else, choose your new colony from the empire tree, click on "planetary development" and, lo and behold, there are buttons to build crystal and metal refineries if there are available asteroids on which to do so.

It never seems like the choice you want to make is distant. It feels wonderful.

I need to play it more, havent even tried multiplayer yet, and the larger galaxy maps are simply intimidating. Will be back with a review.

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

leisure suit larry revival, female protagonists, sexy sexy!


Kotaku pointed me to this excellent interview with LSL series creator Al Lowe, which again directed me to this great summary of the series. Thank you, hypertext markup language, for delivering on your promise.

It's funny how a franchise as sad and awkward as Leisure Suit Larry can be remembered for being funny. The first LSL was a complete horror show to me, filled with people who detest you in a filthy city where imminent death or dishonor is around every corner. There was a strong tone of sadness to the whole experience. Later games in the series became progressively weirder and grew in scope, and the character himself seems to be more of an idea of a lonely guy out of touch with reality than some charicature.

Another point of contention is how the series is often referred to as pornographic, when it's positively tame and thoroughly benign compared to insane things like Dead or alive Xtreme 2, a game i actually bought out of curiosity, and occationally play just to be weirded out by the trippy david lynchian creepiness of it.

Check out the articles, particularly the interview. I thought it was genuinely interesting and a little alarming to be reminded just how mature the games really were compared to the oversexed T&A mania we're seeing in nearly every game with a female character these days.

Speaking of female protagonists, here's a list of some i thought were pretty rad.

  • Cate archer - No one lives forever

    I'm a tremendous fan of this series. I thought they absolutely nailed the female protagonist, with just the right ratio of sexy and elegant. Cate chopped up trenchcoat wearing special agents with her katana stolen from ninjas before picking a lock with her hair pin, investigating the scene of a crime. Later she'll be fighting more ninjas in a house caught in a tornado. Then she reports in on her makeup kit communicator.

    Awesome.




  • Jade - Beyond Good & Evil

    She's downright impossible not to like. She's got an original design that doesn't emphasise her ass and tries to create a character that's simply naturally attractive, and then sets out to make her awesome through her actions.

    I hope i wasn't the only one that thought the idea of sneaking into a compound commando style to get photographic evidence of crimes is a more exciting way to solve a problem than with guns..?

  • Samus Aran - Metroid series

    This is such a nobrainer. Samus is one of the few game protagonists out there where gender is genuinely irrelevant to the character. Samus is a human being in a context where that is exactly all that matters. Her imposing armor serves to remind us of that, and the more recent games frequent audiovisual cues remind us of her femininity. With Samus Nintendo made a female character everyone thinks is a total badass without alienating anyone else based on gender. That's impressive.




  • Julie - Heavy Metal: F.A.K.K.²

    Don't roll your eyes just yet. Heavy Metal is a magazine notorious for its t&a content taken at face value, but it's one of the most sexually empowering publications as well. I absolutely love the idea of the fantasy "heavy metal babe" saving a world populated by strong women and weak men against everything inhuman about the corporate entity, all in latex and leather, wielding chainsaws and uzis. It's totally off the hook, but to me the game was a complete fantasy world, and that's something we shouldn't forget; playing with the rules is what makes a fantasy fun.

    Sidenote; Ritual entertainment (RIP) were notorious for this kind of over the top dumbass muscly men and big titted strong women shooting enormous guns at eachother. It was deliriously politically incorrect, and i loved them for it. Here's a toast to Ritual!

It's complete bullshit to say female protagonists should be exempt from sexuality. No male protagonist with a semblance of realism to them is created without sexuality in mind, be it overt or not; it's simply human nature to look at a person of the opposite gender and consider the probability and value of mating.

In my opinion, we need to reinstate a policy of dignified sexy. We live in a society where sexy women tends to be equated with childlike weakness and sexual subservience to man, particularly in terms of fashion. Sexy has become the domain of girls. There was a time when sexy meant dangerous, and was a property of women.

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Saturday, February 02, 2008

Movie review: Aliens vs Predator Requiem

Wow, just wow. Go to the movies and watch this oedipal train wreck of a film, hollywood's latest and probably not last attempt at fucking its own heritage in the ass.

I suppose we should be given to have some level of understanding that a film called Aliens versus Predator is inherently ridiculous from the offset, but the fact of the matter is, all it takes is one glance at the two franchises being fisted here to realize any attempt at bringing them together should either be left to people with HUGE brains, or left well alone. Two of the most recognizable horror franchises of the pre 00's, stuffed ass first into this, a one and a half hour long cavalcade of off-screen deaths, shaky camera work, shoddy rubber suits, half baked attempts at paying homages to the original films, and exactly no characters to care about. It's a party.

I can't be arsed talking about the plot, because there isn't one. Predators act like drunken sailors and fail to realize one of their guys has a little alien baby coming, smashing their alien-filled ship into America. Always America. Considering it's actually cheaper to shoot a movie filled with unknown actors in eastern europe, i'm frankly surprised the film wasn't moved to a european location. You know, if only to attempt to convince the rest of the world US filmmakers actually know what's outside their own borders. But i digress.

Aliens. On earth. And there's a predator dude out to clean up the mess (presumably). There's a town full of "people", including The Jock, The Sherriff, The Outlaw, The Tough Mom, and The Kid That Needs Saving. There are also some army dudes of unfathomable ineptitude. Who cares.

I'm actually stumped as to what else i can say about this, because it really is one of the dumbest films i've seen in a very long time. What i will do is a point by point list of what i liked and what i didnt.

What i liked
* One nice explosion effect shot.

* It's always good to see Predators wrasslin' it up. Still a fun character.

What i didn't like
* Bodycount overload, on both sides of the fence. There are so many aliens and people biting it here that you become desensitized to it within moments. There is no impact to any death; there are too many bad guys, and they die all the time. There is never any triumph to taking down the villain. In terms of death, this film shouts at you, all the time. It loses its effect rather quickly.

* Terrible, terrible sound work. The aliens apparently have exactly two words in their vocabulary; Hiss, and pitched up elephant. WRrreee. Oh come on. This movie has more pitched up elephant in it than a movie about elephants would have if you pitched it up. Every sound effect that's well done was well done in the 80s. No attempt at playing with the audio template has been made.

* Annoying attention to child murder. I'm not saying child murder is a bad thing. In fact, i fully condone it in the context of the horror film, because it's one of the most disturbing, horrible things i can imagine. Playing it off as The Gimmick Of The Film though, as is done here, is exploitive. Also cue lots of kids watching their parents die. Gnarly.

* Aliens have never, ever been less scary. They're in plain sight, all the time, in all their hobbling man-in-a-suit-ness. Gone are the hideous deliberate biomechanics of Alien, as is the abstract insectoid mob of Aliens. There is nothing particularly alien about these dudes anymore. They're just a bunch of scrawling, whining pig elephants that drip water everywhere and bleed yellow stuff that is SOMETIMES acid and sometimes nothing at all.

* Women get it. Big time. Screw those guys for being able to have children!

* The attempts at homages to the alien films. Woman driving an APC, turning to the camera shouting "Hold on!". Guy named Dallas. Subtle. Retarded.

* The hilarious magical predator/alien hybrid, which looks like a big fat hydrocephalic man with hotdogs hanging off his head.

* One of the single worst soundtracks for a movie of this sort. It's like sci-fi channel originals material.

If you want to see a really freaking dumb movie with lots of people dying and some aliens and also there's a predator, then by all means, support Hollywood's rape of the artform and pay to see this film.

Everyone affiliated with this film deserves a hard knee in the groin.

edit: check out the wikipedia page for this film
It may be as retarded as the film itself. God i love it when people try justifying sci-fi logic.