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Personal Nonsense

Another dose

I got my second COVID vaccine today. I’m two weeks away from licking everyone’s face.

Maybe it’s morbid to think about but I’m fairly certain this blog is going to outlive me. I don’t intend on cutting the minuscule hosting costs out of my budget, and I’m damn sure not letting this sweet .com URL go. I guess I should setup some long term plan for it.

To that end, I started writing my own epitaph.

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Personal Nonsense

Lazy Sunday

I went too hard at the gym on Thursday, and my back is still feeling it. Getting old is the worst. I’m taking it easy today.

I’m almost 10 hours into Nier Replicant. It’s weird because I played a lot of this game a couple years ago, but it was stretched out over a few months. I don’t remember much and what I do remember comes back in short flashes.

All that isn’t worth much though, as I’m about to surpass what I remember playing. Or maybe I’m already past it.

I caught the fish this time.

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Personal Nonsense

Revisiting Dragon Age

A Look Back Before Dragon Age: Inquisition

It’s been three and a half years since Bioware released the last major entry in the Dragon Age series. In video game sequel time, that’s about a million years ago. An entire new generation of consoles has been released since Dragon Age 2. Three Assassin’s Creeds and four Calls of Duty were released since Dragon Age 2. Dragon Age: Inquisition is coming next week. I think it’s time for a refresher on Dragon Age, and whether or not we should be excited for Inquisition.

Dragon Age: Origins was the first major game in the series. After Knights of the Old Republic, Jade Empire, and Mass Effect, Origins felt like a return to form for Bioware fans like me, who remember Baldur’s Gate and their older Infinity engine games fondly. Where Infinity engine games were Dungeons & Dragons based, Dragon Age was an entirely original fantasy setting and system. What Bioware brought back with Origins was diverse backgrounds and character selections: different races, classes, entirely different prologue chapters based on those combinations. On PC, it also brought back a more tactical combat system. You could take the camera into an overhead perspective and position your characters to block melee enemies or flank them. It wasn’t strictly turn-based, but almost every ability had a cooldown time. The story was a typical fantasy epic of good versus evil but it also included some civil intrigue. A lot of attention to world-building was given in Origins, and there was a massive amount of text codex entries to flesh out the land of Thedas.

On a whole, I was a huge fan of Dragon Age: Origins. In fact, it was the first proper Bioware RPG I ever finished besides Mass Effect. Beating Dragon Age: Origins felt like a spiritual victory to me. I had played bits and pieces of all of the previous Bioware games, but Dragon Age: Origins pulled me in with a new fantasy world and traditional RPG combat. In the old Infinity engine titles, I would get sidetracked or I’d hit a difficulty wall at about the 10 hour mark, and I’d play something else. Dragon Age: Origins held my attention for the whole 40+ hours. “I can finish a proper Bioware RPG,” I thought to myself. I can do what millions of others have already figured out, but that’s beside the point. I’ve really enjoyed playing those RPGs in the past, and this was the first one I saw through to completion. It felt like a milestone for me and Bioware.

By this time, Bioware was deep into development on Dragon Age 2. Dragon Age 2? Yes, a proper numbered sequel to a game with a relatively dumb title. I mean, Dragon Age isn’t exactly descriptive, and “Origins” is usually tacked on to the prequel, not the first entry. But regardless, we were going to get Dragon Age 2, and it’s going to be a smaller, more focused game than the last! Wait, what? Instead of going for bigger and more, as most sequels, numbered sequels, do, Dragon Age 2 was promising a tighter focus and more compact experience focused on a single character and a single city over the span of several years.

I’m going to be honest here: I think Dragon Age 2 is an awful game. Rather than a diverse selection of backgrounds, you could play a human male or female, warrior, rogue, or mage. Dragon Age 2’s Hawke was a fantasy equivalent of Mass Effect’s Shepard. Like Shepard, Hawke is fully voiced, which is an improvement over Origins’ near silent protagonists. The combat in Dragon Age 2 was also punched up a bit to be more action-y and look less like characters waiting for their turn to swing at you. Those are the almost good things about the game.

The bad parts about it can be measured by what it doesn’t have compared to Dragon Age: Origins. The top-down tactical perspective is gone. That’s okay, because tactical battles are also gone. Enemies frequently warp into combat from thin air, making any kind of positioning irrelevant. Battles became slogs that made me only wish they would end sooner. These battles don’t take place in diverse locations anymore either. Nevermind the limited scope of the game, where you spend most of your time in a single city that doesn’t significantly change over the years, but areas of the game are frequently reused and passed off as entirely different locations. You’ll get very familiar with a particular cave structure. Anytime you go to a cave, it’s the same map, but with different doors blocked off. You can see the rest of the map in the minimap, but you can’t get there. You can see where the doors should be, but there’s just a giant stone block. The companion characters ranged from uninteresting to outright unlikeable. The story is on a clear rail, with no meaningful choices to be made. Dragon Age 2 is the definition of a sequel that was rushed out of the door to capitalize on the successes of Dragon Age: Origins and the popularity of Mass Effect.

Where does this leave Dragon Age: Inquisition? I won’t speculate on the content or how Inquistion looks. However, we can look at the previous games. Origins was a fantastic roleplaying game. Dragon Age 2 was a mess that didn’t come close to living up to expectations. Since Dragon Age 2, Bioware has released the MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic, and Mass Effect 3. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that both of those have been divisive games, and neither of them have been unqualified masterpieces. There’s still a massive amount of Dragon Age materials that aren’t Origins or Dragon Age 2, including the Awakenings expansion for Origins, mountains of DLC for both games, mobile games, comic books, a web video series (featuring Felicia Day), and five novels, among other Dragon Age media. If you want to immerse yourself in the Dragon Age world, there are plenty of ways to do it. It’s a deep, rich world with a lot of interesting characters and stories, but the mainstream games are one for two in terms of being worth playing. In the meantime, I would hold off on making any pre-release purchases on Inquisition until you can play it for yourself.

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Personal Nonsense

Revisions

You may notice a few extra blog entries! I’ll be republishing some of my game and movie reviews here. The vast majority of them have been published elsewhere before, but I want to collect them here. I’ll be tweaking them and cleaning them up a bit, but not likely to give them significant rewrites.

Who knows, maybe this will give me a reason to write more than reviews again.

In the process, I’m going to try cleaning up some metadata around here too. I’ve got a bunch of unnecessary categories that could be better served with tags.

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Personal Nonsense

On Call of Reagan

I really just wanted to see what a chain of replies would look like here.

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Personal Nonsense

On the eve of Nier Replicant Ver1.22474487139…

I’ve played Nier. After finishing Nier: Automata, I agonized over how I was supposed to play Nier. It was long past out of print and fairly rare. I ended up buying a copy at a Gamestop. It was missing the manual, which drives the collector in me nuts, but the game plays fine. Well, fine as in it works.

Nier’s not great to play in its original form. The melee attacks don’t feel great, the shooting and spells are sort of wonky, and I got bit by the fishing issue. The same exact issue. I had the same exact reaction. I tried so hard to catch that fucking fish, never knowing I was just a few steps away from the point where the fish could actually be caught. I was pretty mad about that because I loved Nier: Automata and Nier has one of the best openings in a video game of all time.

Don’t play this at work

I got something like 75% through Nier before falling off of it. I was playing it on Xbox 360 long after the Xbox 360 was out-of-date, and of course it’s not backwards compatible on Xbox One. The weak gameplay didn’t help.

When Nier Replicant Ver (obnoxious) was announced, I was pretty torn. Do I pull out the Xbox 360 and finish Nier? Do I bother getting this re-release at all? Do I just forget about Dad Nier and start over with Bro Nier? I grappled with these questions for too long.

But then I saw the new game in action, and I’ve read that they’re not just remaking the game, but revamping that crappy combat. And now I can play it on PC, which is really my preferred platform.

Tomorrow, it’s released, and I’m ready.

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Personal Nonsense

Risk

A security researcher ought to know one thing very well: risk. Risk is a key to a lot of things we do in security. Risk informs what we focus on. Risk informs decisions. Risk could be the most important factor in security.

What these security researchers did was fail to check risk in a few areas. They thought of their impact to the Linux kernel in submitting flawed bug fixes. I believe them when they say they didn’t intend harm to the Linux kernel. But they didn’t consider, or underestimated, the risk they took in performing this research without considering the ethical impacts. They say they were looking at the process and not the people, but the people are in the process. The kernel maintainers are humans, and often volunteers in the open source space. These researchers experimented on them, without consent, in an unethical manner.

They also failed to consider the risk to their institution’s reputation. As Greg stated, University of Minnesota researchers submitted bad patches and published their research exposing themselves for knowingly submitting bad patches, and then continued to submit bad patches. So they got their institution banned from submitting future patches, and most of their patches are being reverted. They can’t be trusted, so the Linux kernel maintainers are doing what they can to minimize risk.

I find this particular incident really interesting for a number of reasons, but what stands out most to me is this complete disregard for risk outside of the tunnel vision focus on the patches themselves. They could have chosen any of a million open source projects to prove their point. They chose to take a risk and try to infiltrate and harm the Linux kernel. No matter how much they tried to minimize risk in their patches, they took a huge risk in attacking such a vital project for the sake of making a point that wasn’t worth the risk. These particular researchers may find themselves looking for work outside of academia and security for the risk they didn’t account for.

Background:

https://www.neowin.net/news/linux-bans-university-of-minnesota-for-sending-buggy-patches-in-the-name-of-research/

https://tildes.net/~comp/wch/linux_bans_the_university_of_minnesota_for_sending_intentionally_buggy_patches_in_the_name_of#comment-6exh

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Personal Nonsense

Crossing the Chasm

There’s a game that has haunted me for decades. It started with a PC Gamer demo disc. I loved these things, because they were usually packed with good game demos. One of those demos was Chasm: The Rift. I don’t remember the demo much except that it was like Quake and I liked it.

Since I was pretty young, or at least pretty dependent on my parents to buy things, I never got Chasm: The Rift. It wasn’t exactly the kind of game you could pick up out of our local Babbage’s. For the years afterward, every now and then, I’d think about Chasm. Was it actually good? Can I pirate it somewhere? Will it comes to GOG?

Recently, I learned about a project called exoDOS. Google it. There’s no listing for what games are in exoDOS so I took a risk and blindly downloaded and ran it. It’s got a ton of games, but does it have Chasm? I wouldn’t be writing this if it didn’t.

But Chasm is old. It’s a DOS game with basically no following or source port. It’s more or less lost to time. Surely it won’t run, or if it does, it won’t be particularly playable. But I wouldn’t be writing this if that were true.

It run great in exoDOS. It’s perfectly playable. WASD + mouselook and everything. And it’s not perfect, because it’s basically Wolfenstein with 3D enemies and weapons but flat levels, but it’s pretty fun! Sort of impressive in how they do mission briefings with high detail textured polygonal models. That seems a bit ahead of its time for Quake era.

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Personal Nonsense

Do you ever get so litty you splitty your…

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Personal Nonsense

Make Old Games Work: Stalling

It’s been a minute, right? I’ve missed a couple weeks, some on accident, and some on purpose. To be honest, at this point, I’m stalling. I’m waiting. I have things in motion. I’m waiting for them to land. To kill time, how about I present a few reasons why I’m bothering to do this.

The first is that I can. I have the console hardware. I have the games. A ton of my games aren’t available on newer consoles. If I want to play these again, and I do, I need to figure something out.

Another reason is that I have enough TVs and I don’t want to buy a good CRT to play these on. That’d be the easy way out; just buy a high quality, older CRT that has the right inputs. That’s how I got around this before and it’s how I ended up with a 100lb TV in my basement. I had to gently roll it down those basement stairs to get it there. I’d also have to buy more capture hardware if I want to record any of this, and I sort of want to be able to do that.

The third reason is that emulation sucks. Oh sure, it works a lot of times. Emulator programmers are doing great work to try to make it more accurate all the time. But since I own the hardware, I’d rather put that to use than make the effort to sort out which emulators work best. On top of that, no emulator is perfect and they get worse with fringe and uncommon games, which is what I enjoy. I’m not doing this to play Crash Bandicoot or Super Mario Sunshine. I’m not saying I’ve got rare taste, but there’s a reason why a lot of the games I like haven’t been pulled up to newer consoles. They’re just not very popular, or they’re based on licensed properties.

That’s about it this week. Fingers crossed that I’ll have more fun to report in a couple weeks.