Archive for February 2011

Musical Voyage

Published on February 8, 2011

Over the course of the next few months, I am going to try something my dad did last year: listening to my entire music library in order, sorted alphabetically by album title. This sort order should provide a fairly diverse musical experience. iTunes tells me that I currently have 4174 songs in my library, which comes out to 12.4 days of non-stop music. I’ll be going from The Beatles’ Abbey Road to Van Halen’s 5150 (iTunes places numerically titled albums at the end for some reason). As I make progress, I will occasionally tweet my location in the library. My current plan is to use the #musicstream hash-tag on twitter to demarcate my progress. I’m looking forward to hearing the music that I don’t listen to often; there’s plenty that I frequently overlook.

Smart Games

Published on February 2, 2011

Over the Christmas holiday, I purchased Dead Space on Steam (happily, for only $7). The game was a major letdown on a number of levels, but there’s one nit in particular that I’d like to pick. I was really struck by how dumb the game assumed I was. Often, direct audio cues (i.e. the spaceship’s computer) would tell you exactly what to do. Here’s a typical example:

The player enters a room filled with radioactive debris. Upon entering said room, the ship’s computer announces, out loud, that the room is locked down due to these dangerous conditions. In order to lift this lock down, all radioactive debris must be removed. To further complicate matters, the debris can only be removed when an airlock to outer space is opened (again, all of this is announced by the computer). A monitor in one corner of the room displays, in what would realistically be a 200-point font, the text “open airlock.” Using this computer opens the airlock, and the player is then free to remove the debris.

Sadly, a number of other games make this same assumption; namely, that I as the player am generally unable to figure out how to proceed on my own. I think this is what draws me to the games that Valve develops. Every Half-Life title ever released assumes from the outset that the player is smart. Clues are always provided as to how to proceed, but precious few hints are explicitly stated. Portal is another perfect example of this. The user is instructed (via the narrative itself) how the portal gun works. It’s then up to the player to figure out how to use it to proceed through the game.

As a gamer, I would much rather developers assume my intelligence, rather than my stupidity. It simply makes a game that much more fun to play.

Adblock Eats Tracking Links

Published on February 1, 2011

Adblock Plus is a terrific extension for Firefox, along with the EasyList rule set. One minor problem I’ve run into recently, however, is that EasyList blocks the automatic package-tracking links that appear in the sidebar in GMail (when viewing emails that contain a tracking number). I found the offending rule in the list and disabled it, allowing me to get my links back. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Open the Adblock Plus Preferences dialog (Tools » Adblock Plus Preferences)
  2. Press Ctrl + F to open the find bar
  3. Search for the following text (only one rule should match it): &view=ad
  4. Disable said rule

The entire rule looks like this, in case you’re curious: ||*&view=ad

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