Video gamers are so spoiled today.

As many of you know, I cut my video gaming teeth on the original Atari 2600 — or at least the Sears branded version of it — so I remember the good old days (ha!) of 8 bit gaming. Had you shown 10 year old me what current generation video games would be like, I wouldn’t have believed it possible. 

These days, video games have advanced to the point where highly detailed 3D worlds full of NPCs and tons of interactive objects are the norm. Naturally, our expectations of what a game should look and play like have risen accordingly, but there are times when I think we’ve gotten a little spoiled by the riches of modern gaming.

Take, for example, Marvel’s Spider-Man. Which has a brand new game launching on the PS4 today. I’ve been licking my chops waiting for this title to drop as the E3 demo from last year looked fantastic and it’s going to be a bit before I can get my hands on it. Probably not until Christmas as we’re at that point in the year that I tend to stop buying games for myself lest I screw up someone’s Christmas gift for me. It’s gonna be difficult to be patient because the demos I’ve seen are amazing. Which is why I’m surprised to find out some gamers are complaining that the game has been downgraded. 

Apparently, it all started with a post on Reddit that was just the screenshot I’ve included below. As you can clearly see, Spider-Man’s suit isn’t as shiny in the shot from the release version of the game as it was in the E3 demo. Also, where’d all that water go? 

It’s a Spider-Scandal! Click to embiggen.

Thus started the conversation about how the release version of the game had been “downgraded” graphically. Presumably for performance reasons. I say “conversation”, but that’s probably being way too generous. Basically, some fans went apeshit and proclaimed loudly that they were going to cancel their preorder and so on and so forth.

Eventually someone took to Twitter to send the screenshot to the developer, Insomniac Games (who are responsible for some of the best Playstation games ever including the Ratchet & Clank and Resistance series) and asked why they downgraded the graphics to which Insomniac replied that they didn’t downgrade anything.  Which didn’t really help and the “debate” raged on. 

To be fair to the folks crying foul, there is a rich history in the video game industry of final releases that didn’t live up to the demos that developers had used to build up hype for the game. Probably one of the best known examples, that also helped sell a lot of PS4s in anticipation of its release, was Watch Dogs which allowed players to live out their super-hacker dreams in a GTA-style open world. When it was unveiled in 2012 the graphics in the demo were amazing, but the final release looked more like a port from the PS3 than the next gen title it was supposed to be.

Another example is The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. The initial footage wowed gamers in 2014 so gamers were surprised when the 2015 release had graphics that had been pared back. It was still an incredible looking game and it went on to great success, but there was no denying it didn’t live up to the initial footage even after developers released a patch that improved things. 

Maybe it’s because I’m old and I come from a time when ads for games often didn’t use actual screenshots or had simulated representations on TV, but even with the examples above I think folks are being nitpicky and this is especially true with the just released Marvel’s Spider-Man. Sure, I was underwhelmed by Watch Dogs once I got my hands on it, but that was due more to the fact that the gameplay wasn’t quite as varied as they had suggested. As for The Witcher 3, I had no problems with the release version’s graphic fidelity, but that hasn’t stopped me from only playing it for a few hours. For fuck’s sake, I played Spider-Man on the Atari 2600 and it looked like this:

Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does some of the things a spider can.

Granted, that’s an 8 bit game written in just 4K memory circa 1982, but it wasn’t half-bad for what it was. It played a bit like the arcade game Crazy Climber in that it had bad guys showing up in windows who would cut your web lines and bombs from the Green Goblin you had to defuse while scaling the building. By comparison, the amount of detail and just sheer things you can do in Marvel’s Spider-Man is insane. Who the fuck cares if it isn’t quite as detailed as the E3 demo from last year? You get to swing from spider webs around a detailed 3D recreation of New York City beating the shit out of bad guys, finding collectables, and enjoying a narrative story that is more than a blurb on the back of the box the game came in. OH NOES! THE PUDDLES AREN’T AS DETAILED AS THE DEMO! I’M NOT PLAYING THIS CRAP!

There’s a group out there called Digital Foundry that came together in 2004 specifically to analyze video games and settle arguments such as the one about downgraded graphics in the final release of a title. A couple of days ago they released their video on Marvel’s Spider-Man and they argue that not only is the final release not downgraded, but it’s an improvement over the E3 demo in a lot of areas.

I don’t watch a lot of their videos, but I thought I’d check this one out given all the noise that’s been made about it. It was during that viewing that it occurred to me that video gamers have gotten spoiled. The DF folks do an amazing job of pointing out all the details that are in this game and the methods used to achieve those effects. You don’t have to fully understand what a Cube Map is to appreciate what it adds to the visuals when it’s pointed out to you. For a game that expects you to spend a lot of time swinging between buildings high in the air, there’s an amazing amount of detail at street level when you opt to just walk around a bit. From the number of unique and varied NPCs to the amount of traffic to the various storefronts, this looks and feels like a living world.

The DF folks show where you can see how the underlying game engine works to compromise between realism and playability in areas such as the reflections of other buildings in the windows of the one you’re climbing up and it’s the sort of thing you’re only likely to notice if you were looking for it. In the heat of gameplay it’ll probably never catch your attention and it shouldn’t matter that much if it does if the gameplay is fun. That stupid Atari 2600 game was as basic as you can get, but it was Spidey’s first video game and it kept us entertained for awhile and it’s nothing compared to this. Here, check out Digital Foundry’s video for yourself:

Holy shit! We have come a long way since 1982.

Isn’t that amazing? The detail on his costume alone is something that would’ve been impossible 10 years ago. It’s also a detail you’ll probably notice once before your eye is overwhelmed by all the visual candy on display. Now we’re on the verge of having real-time ray tracing in video games that only looks to make for another big leap in visual quality as it’ll help to eliminate some of the limitations current games have to work around. 

All of the reviews I’ve read for Marvel’s Spider-Man have it pegged as arguably the best Spider-Man game ever made.  So quit yer bitchin’ and appreciate what you’ve been offered here. While you’re at it, get the hell off of my lawn!

Cat videos are always popular, right?

I’m not really counting this as a second vlog as it was originally just me testing out my new mic arm — yes I’ve already replaced the mic arm I’m using — as well as verifying that I’ve figured out how to get Windows 10’s camera app to ignore my webcam mic in favor of the Blue Yeti mic, but then cats happened. There’s really nothing else to this video. It’s just 4 minutes of Cuddles living up to his name.

I’m quite pleased that I’ve been able to get the Blue Yeti to work with the Windows camera app as this allows me to capture video at full 1080p at 30 frames per second directly to my PC instead of having to live stream through Google Hangouts. This also means that should I ever find video editing software that I can figure out and that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg that I could edit them before publishing.

It may take me a bit, but I’ll figure this shit out sooner or later.

Do fidget spinners actually help people with ADHD?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ll already know that one of the latest fads gripping the nation is the Fidget Spinner. They come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, but the most common is a three pronged shape with an axle in the middle that allows you to spin it. Repeatedly. That’s it. That’s all it does.

Here’s an example:

Hours of endless entertainment!

Like any fad, it didn’t take long before some folks making these things started to make a lot of claims about how they were more than just a pointless toy. They could help you with a number of conditions including ADHD, autism, and anxiety.

I’ve discussed the fact that I have ADHD many times in the past and one of the ways it manifests for me is through fidgeting. When I am focusing on something (like writing a blog entry) I tend to bounce my knee a lot or I’ll wiggle the heel of my foot (like I’m doing now). If I’m standing up and engaging in conversation with someone it’s not uncommon for my right hand to be in my jeans pocket fiddling with a USB flash drive cap or fondling coins. So something like this could potentially appeal to me, but I’m skeptical of the claims being made and it turns out many psychologists are as well:

“Using a spinner-like gadget is more likely to serve as a distraction than a benefit for individuals with ADHD,” said Mark Rapport, a clinical psychologist at the University of Central Florida who has studied the benefits of movement on attention in people with ADHD.

There haven’t been any studies done to establish whether the claims are true or not. So the folks at BuzzFeed decided to give some spinners to employees with ADHD for a week and see what they thought. This is not in any way a scientific study, but it’s interesting just the same:

So it seems it’s of some benefit to some people, but probably not life changing in any way. One person reports that it helped more with her anxiety than it did with her ability to focus her attention. Overall this supports the idea that the claims are overblown, but, again, it’s not exactly a rigorous study.

Personally, I don’t think it would work for me because it’s too busy and would be more of a distraction because it would be pulling my attention away from what I need to be focusing on. It might be a way to alleviate boredom, but all that motion would easily be my undoing.

That said, I’ve given serious thought to buying a Fidget Cube. These are more along the lines of what I already do when I continuously pop the cap on and off the flash drive in my pocket. This is a small cube of plastic with a number of things on it to enable fidgeting such as a rocker switch, a combo dial like you’d find on luggage, a small ball bearing that spins in a socket, and so on. None of them do a damned thing other than give your hands something to do. More importantly for me, none of them are so visually stimulating that I’d be tempted to look at it yet would still supply tactile feedback. The folks who came up with this idea had a Kickstarter project for it a couple of years back that was very successful. Needless to say, just like with fidget spinners, there are already hundreds of knockoffs.

Here’s the YouTube ad they put out to promote it:

As you can see, this is the sort of thing you could keep in your pocket, but even if you take it out it’s less likely to distract everyone around you than a fidget spinner. Again, there’s no evidence that this would necessarily improve my (or anyone else’s) ability to focus our attention, but at least I wouldn’t be wearing out the caps to my USB flash drives.

The one drawback to the Fidget Cube over a Fidget Spinner is that you can’t do wicked sick tricks with the cube:

Bonus video from Ice Cream Sandwich:

What about you guys? Any of you give into this fad and pick one up? If so, do you feel it helps with focusing your attention or do you just like to spin for the sake of spinning?

 

A couple of videos on the subject of “You.”

We think of ourselves as a single entity, but the reality is we’re a combination of trillions of individual organisms some of which are a part of us, but not human (e.g. the bacteria in our guts). So at what point do you stop being “you”?

The YouTube channel In A Nutshell has a new video out that’ll ask you to ponder: What are you?

If that’s not enough to get your head spinning, there’s a companion video by CGP Grey that talks about how you are really two “yous” in one body. Specifically, how experiments done on folks who have had the connection between their left and right hemispheres severed has revealed that you are literally of two minds that don’t always agree with each other.

Just some food for thought.

And now a musical interlude: Pomplamoose performs “I’m The Shit.”

They’ve got a new album out — Besides — and so far I’m enjoying it immensely.

Checking in with the 2014 Christmas light shows.

It seems that every year the number of folks doing synchronized Christmas light shows on their homes grows. So much so that there are a number of television shows on the air this year such as the Great Christmas Light Fight.

In fact, one of our first videos tonight is from a family that was on that show. The music is the Christmas Can Can by Straight No Chaser and is an impressive use of the lights they’ve put up including a row of spotlights along the apex of their roof. They’ve got another video featuring a melody of Star Wars songs worth watching too:

Next we go to El Paso where we find another entrant on ABC’s show that won this year:

Let’s swing over to Trinidad for a light show that wasn’t on TV, but still deserves a mention for its use of quotes from various Christmas movies. Not sure why, but Dubstep seems to work well with these sorts of displays. Bonus points for the confused dog that wander through about half-way through the show:

The Delaney family may not have the most lights in their display, but they make good use of what they’ve got with a melody of recent hits and dubstep remixes:

It’s not Christmas until you’ve watched How the Grinch Stole Christmas and the Kremer Family in Minden, Nevada have put together an impressive display using a pixel tree and some projection mapping to honor that venerable animated special:

So many of these light shows seem to be in southern states or places with no snow to speak of. So it’s nice to find a family in a snowy area who are joining in on the fun. Christmas lights look best when they’re surrounded by real snow. Bonus points for the projection mapped Santa in one of the windows:

Let’s head out to Iowa and the obligatory light show using songs from Disney’s immensely popular Frozen:

One of the growing trends is to forego lights altogether in favor of doing full projection mapping on your home. This has become very popular for Halloween light shows, but not as much for Christmas so far. At least not outside of big productions by companies such as Macy’s in New York. Here’s one example I did find on a home if you can handle some more music from Frozen in addition to some Jesus torture video:

So how do you top that? By going bigger, of course. Which brings us to our final video this year. What it lacks in novel light patterns it makes up for in sheer size. This is what you get when you talk all your neighbors into letting you sync up their lights to music. A display so big you have to use a drone to film it:

You gotta admit, that’s damned impressive.

PoliTech asks college students basic history questions…

… the results of which are very disheartening. Granted, this is in Texas where there’s an effort to have textbooks rewritten to push a Conservative slant on all topics, but these aren’t even politically fraught questions. These are basic facts that it’s stunning to think anyone with an IQ larger than their shoe size doesn’t know.

Check it:

headdeskBut, hey, if you want to know what show Snooki was on or who Brad Pitt is/was married to then these kids have got you covered!

To be fair, I can’t recall the last time knowing who won the civil war was critical to my day to day life and knowing that the Vice President is Joe Biden doesn’t help me fix a client’s computer any faster. In the interest of being completely honest I’ll admit that while I do know who we gained our independence from, I wasn’t entirely certain what year it was as it’s a bit of a vague question. My knee-jerk response is 1776, but that’s the year we declared independence. The war itself didn’t actually end until 1783. You could argue we didn’t actually gain it until the war ended. The really sad part is that I do know what show Snooki was on in spite of NEVER HAVING WATCHED THE FUCKING SHOW. I also know who Brad Pitt is/was married to because it’s all anyone talked about back when he dumped one to go to the other.

These people don’t strike me as stupid. They’re just ignorant about the history of their country. I suppose we could debate over how important knowledge of these questions really is, but the point is that you have to work hard at being that ignorant given these are basic facts first taught in elementary school and repeated throughout the years. Given how many times this was covered in my time in public schools I find it hard to imagine there’s any way you could finish K-12 and not know these facts by heart. OK, the Joe Biden one doesn’t really count. I can understand not knowing the dates of important historical events because I was pretty crappy at remembering dates myself, but I at least have a general idea of the time period they happened in.

Are they just not teaching these things in school anymore?

Time for this year’s Halloween light shows.

It’s that time of year again. The holidays are approaching and as such the holiday light shows have started up again. Originally a trend that started with Christmas displays it has since spread to Halloween. So let’s see what folks have come up with this year.

Mark H. kicks things off with a light show that features a 15 foot singing killer clown as the centerpiece:

The Thomas family in Naperville, IL have overstuffed their yard with figures this year and a light show featuring Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which is at least somewhat Halloween-ish:

We’re seeing an increasing incorporation of projection mapping into displays this year as is the case with Tyler D.’s light show that also features an original soundtrack:

Few things are scarier than dubstep so here’s one from a4luther in St. Louis that makes good use of it:

Of course, you could save a lot of time by foregoing the stringing of lights and just using projection mapping to do your whole house like the folks at Clover Shriek Haunt did:

These keep getting better with each year and I have to admire the time and dedication these folks are investing. They also must have some extremely patient neighbors.

If you can’t get enough of this sort of thing then there’s a ton more of these videos on YouTube including additional ones featuring different songs by the folks I’ve listed here as well as efforts from years past.

YOU SHALL NOT PASS (the cat)!

The stereotype has always been that dogs chase cats. Dogs are macho and tough whereas cats are effeminate and fragile.

The reality, however, is a little different…

I can recall Tiger, a cat we owned when I was a kid, living up to his name on more than one occasion. Even chasing a Saint Bernard three times his size out of the yard. That said, Tiger generally got along with our family dog, Pepper, who was never scared of being around the cat, let alone walking past it.

I can totally relate to this rant about predictive text…

Tobuscus (Toby Turner) is a guilty pleasure. Pretty much every one of his YouTube videos will leave me in tears cause I’m laughing so hard. His series on rants on topics such as passwords, voice mails, and Christmas are spot on. Here’s his latest on the problems with predictive text on your cellphone:

This is less of a problem for me since I got a phone with a slide-out keyboard. That turns off the predictive text and leaves me free to cause my own embarrassing spelling errors and typos. Goodness knows I don’t need any automated help for that.