Bioshock 2: From excited to full of hate

June 5th, 2010

I wanted to like Bioshock 2. I preordered the game. I waited. When it arrived, I gazed
over every inch of the box. Then, full of anticipation, I installed the game. Which is when things started to
go wrong.

To be fair, it started after I installed the game and tried to run it. "You need a Windows Live account!" it said. So I created one. Then I just needed to log in to Windows Live, via the game interface...and it couldn't connect. I could log in out of the game, but Bioshock 2 was going to be stubborn about it. Can't log in through the game? Then you can't update the game or play online. Oh, and one other detail: you can't save your game.

I thought that last one had to be a mistake. So I played a bit...and couldn't save. Brilliant!

I spent a the next hour searching for answers. Then another hour configuring port forwarding on the router (no
luck), opening ports in the firewall (no luck), and searching for more possible solutions.

Then, finally, after a couple hours of that nonsense, I stumble on a bit of advice: Scroll waaaaaaay down a certain dialog box (the one telling you to log in to Windows Live or else!), and there's an option to play offline.

Then click through a few more dialogs ("You understand that you're making a stupid choice, right? Well...OK, I guess. Now click here to confirm that you're a pathetic loser."). Then I'm off! And it only took two and a half or so hours to get he game running!

First, though, I have to configure me key setup. I prefer the ESDF setup to WASD, especially with games with lots of commands (A is the action key, G is for grenades, R is for reload...).
Now I can play.

And it goes well, for a while. Then I hit the first hacking minigame. No problem! So I click...and click...and lose. Over and over again. I check and recheck the key mappings. Everything looks OK. It just doesn't work like it's supposed to.

More web searches. Ah...ha? The Hack command cannot be remapped, even if the game says it can. It's WASD or nothing!

So by this point I've spent more time trying to get he game to work than I have spent playing. Far, far more time. And since free time is a rare and valuable commodity, I'm ready to cut my losses. And even now, a couple of months later, I just can't be bothered to try again.

I used to wrangle with config.sys and autoexec.bat to get games to work. But that was nearly 20 years ago, and I just cannot be arsed anymore. If a game takes that much effort to configure, then requires that I mess with the router, and firewall, and log in....Cannot. Be. Arsed.

I've been spoiled by consoles and mobile games. Yes, they lack the graphics and the depth, but Having Fun Rigy Now often trumps those things.

Whichnis also why I hate the argument "But the game gets good after the first 5/10/20 hours!" Sorry, but I have limited time and patience. If the game developers couldn't include fun right from the start, then they've failed. Or succeeded in making a game for masochists.

Reviews: The Blade Itself, Before They Are Hanged, Last Argument of Kings, King Leopold's Ghost, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl who Played with Fire

May 20th, 2010

The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie - 7.5/10
A promising start to a "dark" fantasy series. The characters are intriguing, the world is not particularly complex but nonetheless interesting, the plot moves along well. It spoke well for this book that although the pacing seemed a bit slow, I was always interested to see what came next.

Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie - 7/10
Second in the 'The First Law' series. Very similar to the first, good writing, interesting story, intriguing characters. At the end of this one I did wonder, given the pacing, how on earth Abercrombie was going to wrap things up in only three books.

Last Argument of Kings by Joe Abercrombie - 5.5/10
...and everything sort of collapses, leaving me cold on the entire series. Lots of exciting things happen yet at the end I could only ask: what was the point?
I like "dark", "gritty" fantasy - I cut my teeth on Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser (still some of my favorite books), tore through Glen Cook's Black Company series. Yet Abercrombie seems to inflict tragedy on his characters only for the sake of making the book dark, not because it logically follows or in any way improves the narrative. Narrative events should have meaning, not simply get inserted to maintain a certain tone. As I feared at the end of the second book, he ties everything up with a quite unsatisfactory knot and by the end really leeches out the importance of much of what has gone before - even within this book itself.
Which is a shame, because in the micro the writing is quite good and pulls the reader along. But this book really flubs the macro, leaving me shaking my head.

King Leopold's Ghost: A Story of Greed, Terror, and Heroism in Colonial Africa by Adam Hochschild - 8/10
Just because I really like it, here's the poem from which the title is taken:

Listen to the yell of Leopold’s ghost
Burning in Hell for his hand-maimed host.
Hear how the demons chuckle and yell
Cutting his hands off, down in Hell.

A fantastic work of non-fiction, detailing the colonial catastrophe that was the Belgian Congo, and revealing the individuals involved both in begetting it and in exposing and condemning it. Very well crafted and presented, and performs marvels in gleaning from very scant documentation the daily operations and life in a particularly afflicted place and time.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson - 8.5/10
Reading this book once again had me wishing I could read Swedish, as I know I missed a fair amount in translation. Nonetheless, a wonderful outing, with compelling characters, a really well-woven story, and crackerjack writing. I particularly appreciate it when a novel has the reader making discoveries as the characters do, rather than allowing the characters to possess knowledge the reader does not have, or trying to whip out an "aha!" moment based on information the reader was given but not made aware of its significance. Larsson really brings you along as the story unfolds. A great read.

The Girl who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson - 8/10*
Also a really compelling book - as with the prior novel, I was eager to get on BART to and from work each day so that I could read more. The asterisk, however, is there because The Girl who Played with Fire doesn't really have an ending. It reaches a climax immediately prior to the last page. From reading the descriptions of the third novel ("picks up immediately where the prior book left off"), it's clear that this book is actually only the first half of the entire story. A great first half, but not a complete story.

'Nother Band Name

April 25th, 2010

"10 Car Train" would be an excellent band name, especially for a group from the Bay Area.

I waffle on whether the numeric or alphabetic form would be better. I like the numeric a touch more, but "Ten Car Train" is easily abbreviated to "TCT", which sounds like an explosive narcotic.

Reviews: The Burning Land, Revolutionary Characters, Empires of the Atlantic World, Mysteries of the Middle Ages

April 19th, 2010

The Burning Land by Bernard Cornwell - 7/10

Another enjoyable story in Cornwell's Anglo-Saxon series. Nothing to write home about, and Cornwell really stretches credulity in the way he returns Uthred to the side of Wessex, but a fun read nonetheless.

Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different by Gordon S. Wood - 8.5/10

I have read enough of Gordon Wood's opinions - he critiques history books for the New York Review of Books - to know that he is, shall we say, crotchety. Surly. Grumpy. Persnickety. I suspect I might be too, were I in an academic discipline where deconstruction and "political correctness" are so very much run amok. That said, he's also damned well-informed about early American history, and this collection of character portraits of the founding fathers is both concise and horribly interesting. I think he really drives home the understanding that the Founding Fathers were men of a very different era than the one they gave birth to. These character sketches are a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the men who shaped this country at its inception.

My favorite quote, which was good enough for Wood to use it twice in this book, is from Ben Franklin, writing about John Adams: "I am persuaded that he means well for his country, is always an honest man, often a wise one, but sometimes and in some things, absolutely out of his senses."

I'm looking forward to reading Woods' contribution to the Oxford History of the United States series, the recently released Empire of Liberty; it's already receiving excellent reviews.

Empires of the Atlantic World: Britain and Spain in America 1492-1830 by John Huxtable Elliott - 8/10

An interesting book which compares the British experience in the New World with that of the Spanish. Aside from starting a century earlier, the Spanish essentially became overlords of two large, existing cultural entities (the Incas and the civilizations of central Mexico), whereas the English started later and their relations with the natives were those of neighbors (frequently bad ones) rather than overlords.

The book delves much deeper, of course, although the scope of the work is such that even at 608 pages it really only shaves the surface: two continents' worth of differing experiences across three hundred fifty years, and even leaving aside the French, Portuguese, etc, the book skips much and gives much more only a bare mention.

Even so, it's packed with solid information and written well; it flows in a way that keeps the vast amount of data from being laborious. Most of the English colonial experience I was already familiar with, but much of the Spanish experience was new to me, so I enjoyed a fairly large amount of learning.

It amused me that the author was very much aware of the "yo-yo" nature of this book, namely that it turned constantly between similarities and differences. 'In this fashion, these colonies were alike, but in this fashion different, but even there these elements were similar, but of course these differences are evident...' It's not a flaw, nor do I know how else one might have dealt with the subject (particularly given that the book is quite precisely a comparison) but it was a humorous bit of self-knowledge.

Mysteries of the Middle Ages: And the Beginning of the Modern World by Thomas Cahill - 4/10

Lots of interesting information in this book, which can best be described as "Unconnected Medieval People I Find Interesting, by Thomas Cahill". That said, there are enough places where he makes deliberate errors of conflation or omission that I dare not trust any of the material he presents; and he veers constantly into editorializing about current issues (e.g. the invasion of Iraq or the Catholic pedophelia coverup) so that the entire work basically becomes the quasi-historical grounding for Cahill's opinions. The fact that by and large I agree with him does not lead me to view the book with less distaste.

Going digital. Well, more digital.

April 15th, 2010

After years of trying to avoid the inevitable, I'm finally sucking it up and loading all my cds into my ipod. I've been using it as an radio alternative, streaming online radio stations and copying a hundred or so mp3s at a time to the ipod, or else listening to a couple of podcasts. A bit of that each week would see me through my commute.

But now my favorite online radio station is dead (again), and that was enough to get me to finally load all of my cds onto my computer. Plus, my cds were banished to the garage almost a year ago when we started remodeling the house. After a few brutal purges, I have three boxes of cds. Each box has three rows, and each row holds about 40 cds. So, with the last row not quite filled, that's somewhere around 330 or so little plastic boxes.

I started this project a week ago, going through a bunch of cds every evening. I just finished the first box, which takes me from ABC to Elastica.

Yeah, I've got a long way to go.