Browsing the blog archives for September, 2008

FireFox 3

1 Comment
Technology

About last week I started getting these pop-up message prompting me to upgrade to FireFox 3. I’d heard some reports about people being annoyed with one particular new feature in FireFox 3 (some sort of upgrade to the address bar), but in general there didn’t seem to be any technical issues with the new version, so I went ahead and did it.

While for the most part FireFox 3 seems to use a lot less memory… I am just amazed at whoever thought this supposed upgrade to the address bar was a good idea. The only feature I want in an address bar is a basic auto-complete feature that will pick out the webpages I frequently visit from as few keystrokes as possible. FireFox 3 introduces this so-called “Awesome Bar” feature, which, from what I can tell, works exactly the opposite way. It seems to try to match the title of the webpage, which can lead to incredibly unintuitive behavior like typing in “t” to bring up Shamus’ site (“Twenty Sided”) instead of “sh” for www.shamusyoung.com/twentysidedtale/. Of course, it’s not even that good. I’ve typed in “t” and gotten results for sites with “The” in their name. Or worse, websites that don’t have a “T” anywhere in their name or address (Huh?!). The results are often totally inexplicable.

Some other comments from human beings who have been subjected to this torture:

I just downloaded the beta and started using version 3, and this new bar is the worst implementation imaginable of what might actually be a reasonable idea. (I would have to see a good implementation before I can decide on that last part.)

I type in “ne”, and it sorts “slashdot-NEws for NErds”, and “groklaw.NEt”, and a few other things, BEFORE “NEws.google.com”.

If I WANTED slashdot, I would have typed “sl”. If I WANTED groklaw, I would have typed “gr”.

That AWFULBAR is so unbelievably bad – this add on at least makes it look better; but the algorithm and arrogance of the developers made me revert back to FF2. I may dump Firefox altogether. I know that some people will like the new bar, but totally outrageous to stick it on everyone. There will be MANY MANY people who would otherwise use FF that will swear off it now – there will be many embarassing moments as this algorithm BOLDLY displays unexpected results/history in public/group presentations, family situations, etc. Mark my words – this new feature will be the single most important event in the downfall of Firefox/Mozilla.

I am really boggled by who thought this was a good idea. Even when I adjust FireFox 3 in about:config so that browser.urlbar.matchOnlyTyped is true, I still get these boggling results. I’ve at least installed the oldbar plugin and reduced the number of results I get to a reasonable number, so it’s under control. Still, this gives me a lot more impetus to check out Chrome…

Girls Should Not Play Videogames

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Culture, Games

[Unless they legitimately enjoy them.]

I’m tired of the litany that [more] girls “should” play videogames.

Face it. Videogames, at least the videogames which are always meant by the term, are designed for boys. What are Counter Strike or Halo or Call of Duty? They’re the modern equivalent of going out to hunt or fight. It’s simulated fighting, or sports. And what do boys do? They compete with each other.

Are all games like this? Well, of course not. You’ve got your Myst, you’ve got Civilization, you’ve got a million other games that aren’t training simulators for boys to learn how to practice hand-eye coordination and fighting tactics.

Thing is, the focus on girls not playing videogames is always about this small subset of games which are, for obvious reasons, attractive to men and young boys. These are games which are acting out traditional male roles in fighting and competition, but in a safe and nondestructive way. They cultivate masculinity, why would most women be interested in that? Sure, you’ve got your outliers, but that’s pretty much the situation on the ground right now — Nerdy tomboy girls playing masculine shooters. The non-obvious twist is that women are actually a majority of videogame players once you look at things like Bejeweled, Literati, The Sims, and Facebook, they’re just not as interested in the masculine games.

I can’t count how many articles I’ve read with so much hand-wringing over these intuitive observations. These sorts of articles tend to like to profile female gamers. “Whenever I beat a guy, I like to shout over the mic, ‘You just got beaten by a girl!'” they’ll say. The point being, if you’re a girl and you play videogames, you must glorify your victories over men.

Not only is this a blow to their masculinity, but it denigrates a woman’s femininity. This is why playing videogames is a lose-lose proposition. Women don’t need to emulate masculine behaviors to have worth. It’s not even beneficial to be a “gamer girl” if you’re going to constantly compete against your boyfriend or husband and question his masculinity when you win. There are plenty of girls out there who like certain games, and who can show interest in their boyfriend or husband’s activities without making that next step to trying to become one of the guys.

United 93

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Miscellaneous

Seven years. I finally managed to work up the courage to watch this movie. I can’t say I regret it, but it wasn’t an enjoyable experience. Basically two hours of dread building up over the inevitable.

Worth watching, I think, especially with how little attention this receives nowadays.

Down the Rabbit Hole

3 Comments
Games

I left a comment earlier today over at Shamus’ site, on his response to Bioshock:

Bioshock being a disappointment is no surprise to me.
Ever since game graphics have gotten good enough to simulate the cinematic experience of watching a movie, gameplay and storyline have suffered. [Not that storyline was ever consistently good in videogames either.]

My theory is due to the profit-driven and highly expensive nature of videogames today, there’s too much of an investment to allow a bunch of random nerds to deliver something kind of experimental which explores the videogame medium’s use of gameplay and story as a unified thing. Instead we get cutscene emulations of an entirely different medium which people already have plenty of knowledge on how to experience (movies), and barely noticeable innovation in gameplay mechanics… Or no innovation in gameplay mechanics, or steps backward in gameplay mechanics. Wouldn’t want to step on the toes of the ‘cinematic’ experience by forcing players to fiddle about inside an inventory menu. Managing inventory isn’t cinematic!

One of my favorite bloggers and culture critics, Michael Blowhard of 2Blowhards, has talked on occasion about what he sees as a “videogamization” (my term) of movies and other media. According to Michael a lot of these trends of things bleeding over from videogames into movies, television, advertisement, and so on. As my comment belies, this is actually one area where I think Michael is wrong — I see videogames doing very little pollination into other mediums, and a lot of pollination from other media coming in to videogames.

As you can also probably tell from my comment, I think this is a bad thing. Videogames are an interesting medium in that they can do almost anything — Games don’t even need a protagonist or a story, you can have a pure challenge. Things that don’t work well in books or movies, such as leaving the main character as a cipher, work perfectly well in games. On the other hand, you can just as easily copy the cinematic style of a movie, or you can make a videogame (a hypertext) that is entirely text-based like a novel, or any combination you wish in between.

The problem is that the industry has taken this turn, urged on by publishers who control their cash flow, of going specifically in one direction. Videogames need to be big, cinematic experiences. Who cares if the gameplay itself is shallow, the characters are sketchy, the story is full of holes, and the atmosphere is mediocre. Explosions, John Williams-style soundtracks, and a big marketing budget will sell these games. Gears of War alone sold millions based on XBox360 fanboyism and an advertising campaign using a song from a popular “unpopular” movie.

Ken Levine of 2K games had this to say:

“I can pretty much guarantee to you that if BioShock wasn’t successful, there never would have been another game like this,” the industry luminary told UK site Eurogamer.net.

Really? There would have never been another FPS-RPG without BioShock? Frankly, I find that hard to believe. Would there never have been another billion-dollar FPS with lukewarm RPG elements? I’m skeptical of that claim too. The videogame literati are disproportionately drawn to good games, and so there will always be more of a demand for games to follow in the footsteps of those games. But the videogame literati also don’t particularly care about games with billion dollar budgets appealing to the unwashed masses of subhuman console fanboys if it means sacrificing (or shoving off to the side) features they liked.

Selective Sexism

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Culture, Politics

First off, I want to get this out of the way: Epic Games has really lost touch with their gamer base. They tasted the forbidden fruit of easily-swayed 12 year olds with Gears of War and have pretty much abandoned their past market — A mature and discerning gamer who demands a superior quality product.

Nevertheless, I came across this article on Kotaku which I thought was really silly. The main point of the article is unremarkable, it’s talking about Epic’s decision to go with EA (probably not a bad thing given what a debacle Midway has been with UT3) and their new projects in production.

The fun part is when the Kotaku interviewer chides Mike Capps for Epic’s “lack of female characters”:

As a parting shot, I asked about chicks in this new game. I hinted (flat-out said) every Epic game I’ve seen is severely devoid of badass females (except Unreal Tournament) and wanted to know if he planned to do anything about it. Apparently, I’m not the only one with this concern. Capps’s girlfriend is also very interested in the badassitute of female characters in Epic games – ditto for the EA handler’s girlfriend and double it for all the guys at People Can Fly with girlfriends.

Really, so “every Epic game” he’s seen is severely devoid of badass females?

Lets look at their past titles: Epic Pinball. Jazz Jackrabbit. Unreal (main character was by default, female). Unreal 2. Unreal Tournament. Unreal Tournament 2003. Unreal Tournament 2004. Unreal Tournament 3. Unreal Championship. Unreal Championship 2. Gears of War.

Pinball and Jazz are not exactly relevant here. And the only Unreal title that doesn’t feature “badass females” (badass of course, meaning “sexy female character who turns boys on by being into guns and killing stuff in the same way that adolescent boys are”) is Unreal 2. Even there, we can’t really know what Aida is like because she never sees combat in the game. She’s touted as a military genius, though, and her strategy won a past war — she just doesn’t like killing.

So basically, this Kotaku guy puts on his feminist waders and goes to chide Epic. “Of your past 9 futuristic paramilitary shooter games, one of them has not featured a ‘badass female.’ When are we going to see more games from you guys that feature ‘badass females.'”

How utterly stupid. Not that it’s anything special, it is pretty typical.