This user leads a boring life.

Joined on June 20, 2006, 12:39 PM Visited on March 22, 2019, 3:51 AM

JoshDreamland posted on June 04, 2017 at 4:42 PM

Haven't blogged in a while

[ I'm posting this blog a week and some after I started writing it, because shit happens. ]

Haven't blogged in a while. Didn't realize how long a while until I came back and noticed that Spike was now my age. I'm afraid if I don't start writing more often, I'll return to discover that he's started a family, and that his kids are my age.

In that spirit, here's a blog. I'm actually on a plane, right now, bound for Minneapolis, where I'll be boarding a new plane for San Francisco. I still work for Google; this is another greater team get-together. Life's been mostly calm and predictable. I can't remember if I blogged since buying a house, but if not, I bought a house. Yay! Homeownership can be a pain, but by and large, I think it's something adults bitch about because they forget how stressful high school is.

On that note, I remember all the old people telling me that every successive phase represented “the best years of my life”; it could still prove true, but that's because people my age don't seem to know how to have fun. I used to have friends with whom I could play video games or talk about the games I was making; now I'm so good at programming games, the challenge is in all the art and creative stuff that I don't have, anymore. Well, it's not that I don't have it, anymore; it's just that it didn't scale with my growing understanding of the universe and of proper gameplay elements (it is overcome by the rationale that prevents me from making games like Sticker Star; see my other blog post for details).

So sure, I miss childhood, but only because I miss the lack of inhibition that comes with it... and the time I had to spend with friends…. I'm drowning in free time, actually, but no one else seems to be, and I'm low on physical friends, and the "IRL" friends I do have don't really share my entertainment interests.

Anyway, that’s enough for that tangent. The point is, life's a bit boring for this and that reason. As usual, however, I've kept busy regardless.

Since programming is pretty much a solved problem, in my life, I've taken to doing more physical crafts. I've been playing with the laser cutter at the local TechShop. I've made a number of small things—utilities for my house, decorative nonsense, gifts for my father, and playground equipment for my hamster.

Oh, that's another thing I should mention. My parents got me a little housewarming present when I moved out of my apartment. His name is Zen. Since I'm not fourteen and poor, anymore, Zen lives like some kind of rodent king. He has upwards of a hundred linear feet of Habitrail at his disposal, but because that's still not enough space for a hamster, I went ahead and gave him access to the rest of the room, too. Hamsters are funny: regardless of the space available to them, if they can map it all out in their heads, they want more. So now that Zen has access to my room, he spends most nights digging at my door, trying to get out. I'm not even certain how he identified the door as a structural weakpoint. He's basically a giant rat. Relevant pics enclosed.

As for computers, work at Google consumes most of my patience for the woes of software development. I still program on my own from time to time, but not big stuff, like I used to. I have been considering rekindling ENIGMA, and have even written some code in the direction of doing so, but motivation is sparse because the space doesn't fascinate me like it once did (again, programming isn't really a challenge, anymore, and Google eats up most of my budget for putting up with stupid build systems and code health and blah blah blah).

What keeps me going is the thought of the next generation of video games. I played Color Splash…. I'll be writing about that one, shortly. What I really want is the next installment of Metroid (and for said installment to not be made by Team Bouncing Boobies). For those who don't know from, eg, IRC, I was big on Mario Maker for a while. I'll be looking for a new installment of that, on Switch; I had a lot of fun with it on Wii U. I made a few of my own levels (like this and this), which look hard, but pale in comparison to even some of the easier levels by harder-core players (try Carl's Premature Detonation or U-Break, the original hard-as-balls level). I've been hanging around in the Mario Maker community on Twitch, and have made some friends there, but none that I actually hang out with off Twitch or play any games with.

I think I'll be playing Breath of the Wild in another month or two, here—whenever I can get my hands on a Switch. That should be fun.

In broader life news, I'm excited for UberEATS’ arrival in Pittsburgh—I hate driving, but I love eating out. I've been bitching at Taco Bell on Twitter about only backing DoorDash for delivery. They've ignored me outright. If you know anything about my personal life, you know I really can't stand driving (or travel in general). So Taco Bell delivery is something I'm pretty interested in, as is Google Express. Even more broadly, and looking forward a few years, Autonomous cars are a huge interest of mine, and I'm excited for the Pittsburgh-Chicago hyperloop—whatever becomes of it.

I'm not sure if any of you pay attention to the autonomous car space, but it's really heating up. At least Waymo is; everyone else is basically just peacocking, and some of them are paying the price for it, now (the rest will pay the price for it, later).

This is as far as I wrote on the plane—I only had internet over SSL, because I refuse to pay Gogo $8 for the shittiest connection on earth. This meant I could check email and send IMs, etc, but not view or post to 64D. Since then, I had a fucking hell of a time at the airport, but otherwise all was well. I enjoyed the offsite, even though I had virtually zero time to myself—I reserved like eight hours for showering and sleeping (except on the last day where I reserved more like five). While I was there, AlphaGo trounced Ke Jie (19-year-old world champion) at Go... I have mixed feelings about this. I felt completely fine about it until I realized the kid is 19; now I feel bad because he's spearheading a new age of intellectual obsolescence that I won't enter myself for another decade and some....

I could probably rant for hours about machine learning and AlphaGo and self-driving cars, but there's not much sense in it. Just know that big things are always afoot in these fields, and it's usually not the loudest voice that's anywhere near correct.

Thanks for reading. Cheers.

JoshDreamland posted on November 22, 2015 at 4:03 PM

Played Sticker Star

I haven't made a game in years, and what's sadder is that until recently, I hadn't played one in years, either. I do play some Terraria from time to time, but since it's more of a multi-player game, and coordinating with people becomes harder as you become older, I just haven't played much. A long flight to California last month, however, finally prompted me to open my 3DS and start playing Paper Mario: Sticker Star.

I actually had three games at my disposal, including Sticker Star. It happens, though, that playing on this tiny fucking 3DS is actually a really huge barrier to my enjoyment of a game, and so I typically don't play for very long, if I can bring myself to start playing at all. Last year, I brought Kirby Mass Attack along for the flight. It was another one of those DS games that tries to involve the touch screen—mankind's most awkward control interface—simply because it's available.

Make no mistake: I LOVED Canvas Curse. The game was new, engaging, and just plain fun. It wasn't a conventional Kirby game, by any means, but it stuck to Kirby closely enough to be a Kirby game, and it had all the makings of a great game. Contrast this with, say, Epic Yarn. I don't know what went wrong at Nintendo HQ. It wasn't originally a Kirby game, and it never became one. The graphics were beautiful; the animation was stellar, and at 60fps, it was a sight to behold. But the gameplay was lame. The challenge was missing. You can't die; the worst that happens is you get the bronze medal of shame at the end of the level, which bugs me just enough to make me replay it until I'm sick of the game. I never completed either game, actually (Mass Attack or Epic Yarn). I may eventually complete Yarn, but only because it's on the big screen....

Mario games, similar offenses. Theme after theme of lame "twist" on what is otherwise the same old shit. New Super Mario Bros U was okay... New Super Mario Bros was okay, except it was on the little screen. The mini mushroom was cool, the mega mushroom was cool (one of my favorite parts of The Thousand Year Door / Super Paper Mario)... both games had their points. I can't remember ONE thing about Mario 3D land that was new. Oh, except the 3D. The forced perspective bullshit that makes you turn on the 3D display or guess. That was new. Problem is, that shit fucks with my eyes; thanks for making it mandatory. I already hated your 240p fucking display, and then you did THAT shit. God.

Anyway, getting on the plane this time, I decided I should go with Sticker Star, because at very least, an RPG should be a little engaging. Keep me interested throughout the flight. Right? If you've played Sticker Star, you're either crying right now, or you're twelve.

As far as RPG makings go... well, the game had text in it. The first problem was that the text it did include was all painfully "hip" garbage that could be ignored without losing anything. I don't think there was a single paragraph of text in the entire game that added ANYTHING to the story, in way of plot or depth of story. Okay, so there was this one house in Decalburg in which you could unlock painting + message combinations that had some kind of emotion in them. That was it, though. Apart from that, I may as well have played the Japanese version. I'd have enjoyed it more, because my mind would have invented something of substance that was happening elsewhere in the game. Or at least I'd have assumed there was something charming or endearing about the story. But no... like every recent Nintendo title, the plot was deep to the extent that I could roll in a puddle of it without getting wet.

So, we're missing a plot; let's talk about gameplay.

The first thing you'll notice playing this game is that everything requires stickers. Mario is unable to defend himself in any way, short of a half-ass block that cuts damage in half, without using a sticker. Stickers can only be used once, and with rare exception, their effects last one turn. We'll get into exceptions in a minute, because this game's mechanics are actually fueled by odd, quirky exceptions that feel like taped-on afterthoughts. But right now, we're talking about the basic game mechanics, and that means you need a sticker to do anything at all.

Stickers replace badges in this installment of the series. Super Paper Mario had no badges or turn-based fighting, and it was still more of a Paper Mario game than this, so I'm not going to really rail on that fact... except, as I started to mention, stickers also replace your basic ability to jump on an enemy or swing your fucking hammer on your own. You need "sticker power" to do anything at all in a battle but run. It's a good thing wiping your ass isn't part of the typical Mario mechanic, because it'd probably require a stupid-rare sticker to do so, and consequently you'd frequently find yourself walking around with your ass hopelessly encrusted in shit. Rest assured, this would only marginally reduce the overall pleasantness of walking in this game, which may be the slowest that Mario has ever walked in any game when not in water or outer space. Any slower and he'd be moonwalking, essentially, and there's no spin or any other speedy transport in this game.

The button that would logically have been for spin instead summons one of the most aggravating video game characters of all time to provide minimal useless "advice" about your current level or situation. These include "boy, it's hot in here" or "this would be a lovely view, if not for the poison." The rest of it is snappy Nintendo-hip drivel I didn't bother committing to memory. Some of it's downright insulting. None of it is remotely useful.

So, mechanic-wise, not the best start. So we're lacking in plot and we're lacking in basic mechanics. But hey, as I learned from that Halloween competition last year, global game mechanics are less than half the battle. The important part is what you do to make each level unique. So, what does Sticker Star do, there?

Let's start with the places it does really well. Each level has it's own thing that you must do or problem you must address to make the level beatable. Some of these are literally "things"—3D objects placed randomly in the game that are specifically called "things," which can be redeemed for stickers called "thing stickers." These include household shit they found models for, such as vacuum cleaners, faucets, fans, ...a fucking cat statue that ostensibly once held cashews. It's gimmicky, but it's fine. I believe it adds to the game.

Anyway, beating levels. Usually the trick to a level is peeling off bowser tape stickers in a few locations, or tracking down and placing either "thing stickers" or pieces of the level's scenery that have been ripped out, crumpled up, and hidden somewhere. The difficulty of this varies enormously, but it's a decent game dynamic, apart from how annoying it is to place stickers and level scraps. The sticking process is a little childish and drawn out for my liking, is all. The upshot is, each level has a lot of variety. Now, let's talk about how quickly that goes bad, and then about how generally shitty all the other unique components of this game are.

I mentioned that beating some levels require placing thing stickers. I also mentioned that the task of tracking these down varies in scale. Let's look at the start of the game. You find yourself in Decalburg, the main town in the game. After making your way out of the city to the map, you are faced with a choice of four levels. Three of these are impassable, with only one visibly requiring something you don't have (ostensibly a thing sticker). It's not clear immediately what that something is, but it's clear you don't have it. This imparts a false sense of nonlinearity (the idea that you can beat these levels in the order of your choosing), when in fact, the game's about as sequenced as they come. It's only slightly more strongly sequenced than, say, Super Mario Sunshine. Imagine Sunshine only you have to beat Shadow Mario (ie, course 7 of 8) before unlocking the next stage, and you need to clear all eight objectives in every world before Corona Mountain unlocks. Yeah, it's pretty linear, but gives a false sense of nonlinearity that causes major confusion early in the game. I wasn't sure what levels I was able to beat, because finding a way to get the stupid bridge piece in 1-1 seemed just as inconceivable as finding the fucking stickers I needed in 2-1 or 3-1.

Fast forward a couple levels. The confusion hasn't cleared. What could be needed to get past 3-1? It's a big sticker spot. Maybe I need to blow my problem away with the fan from that gusty meadow? Maybe I need to vacuum it up like the garbage it is? No, nothing like that. If you play through the entire first world, you'll understand... otherwise, you'll be as lost as ever. And if you stick the wrong sticker in that spot, it will gray out and fall into oblivion, which is a horrendous waste of a special sticker. Toward the beginning of the game, thing stickers seem precious. Why? Because the game offers no kind of tutorial to explain that they're relatively easy to replace.

In fact, this game has no tutorial at all. It employs the most complicated action commands of any game in the franchise, and the way you can learn the action commands is nearly impossible to discover. Perhaps this was covered in the manual that no one reads. It took me quite a while to figure out that "things" come back, only after you use or sell their sticker, and it took me even longer to figure out how to properly use the action commands for hammer-like stickers. If you miss the command, you typically deal one damage point, or sometimes half damage, in what seems like random noise to a new player. In essence, the game lacks any tutorial structure or directional structure, and it punishes the fuck out of you for it. So let's talk about the rewards!

In addition to arbitrary sticker requirements to get through certain levels, like the 3-1 "thing sticker" eater, Boss fights have arbitrary sticker requirements. At least I think they all do; for all I know, some of them are nothing more than frustrating-as-fuck wastes of stickers. The first boss battle in the game (a giant, sparkly goomba) may have a hidden winning sticker, but I never found it. After I kicked the thing's ass with what I had on hand, the cunt advice/guide sticker I mentioned earlier ridiculed me for spending so many stickers on one fight. A quick wiki search just now reveals the answer:

"The key for beating it is waiting when the 16 Goombas Stickers appear and start to flip: at this moment, Mario should use the Fan sticker to make all the stickers but the corrupted one to collapse. After doing so it's like to battle an ordinary Goomba."

What. The FUCK. Is this DICKERY? Holy SHIT. What a novice fucking antic. There was no indication throughout the entire first segment of the game that a fucking fan sticker is the way to beat a giant, shiny fucking goomba. I think most people would agree that, while I have my moments, in general I'm reasonably intelligent. Probably more intelligent than the typical child for whom this game was developed by a good two or three sigmas. But you know what? I was CLUELESS that a fucking fan sticker was this asshole's silver bullet. But that's the trick: every one of these fucking bosses has one or two stickers for which bizarre, inexplicable, crippling exceptions are wired into the game to convert an invincible leviathan (invincible, as in your attacks typically deal 1-5 damage out of the 350-500 total hit points, per turn) into a pathetic puddle of slime. The game developers went so far as to code special sounds and animations for how thoroughly you're kicking ass when you use these stickers, but they couldn't be bothered to, say, drop a hint that this is what you want, or, you know, just make it follow intuitively from the circumstance of the battle.

I LOVE when you can abuse scenery or such to get the upper hand in a battle. Even when it's designed for a 12-year-old to figure out, I feel accomplished for realizing that. eg. in Metroid Prime: Corruption, the quickest way to kill eight enemies on a bridge is to step off of the bridge and collapse it. Contrast this with Sticker Star, where you have to divine that a fucking fan sticker used at this moment will reduce your giant sparkling goomba to a one-turn punchout.

The one exception to this in Sticker Star is the boss of world 4, which is a 25-story snow monster. I'll bet you can fucking guess what kind of stickers are effective against him. But he's the only one. The only reason I figured out world 2 is not because fire is the natural enemy of snow, but because the fucking tower is called a "stadium" for some inexplicable fucking reason, atop the tower is a literal baseball stadium, and the fucking advice sticker bothers to say "DAMN SON, LOOK AT THOSE LOVELY SEGMENTS. JUST LOOK AT ALL THOSE SEGMENTS. THIS BOSS COMPRISES MULTIPLE SEGMENTS. YOU STILL ATTACK THE BOSS AS A GIANT MONOLITH, BUT IT DOES COMPRISE MULTIPLE SEGMENTS. I WISH WE COULD FIND A STICKER TO SEND THOSE SEGMENTS FLYING WITH A LOUD CRACK. ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT BASEBALL YET? THERE WAS A BAT STICKER EARLIER." It turns out that the bat sticker is the ONLY sticker in the ENTIRE game that can individually attack each segment, which gives it a damage multiplier of however many segments high you allowed the boss to reach. All other stickers, including Thing stickers, can deal at most 45 damage to it. The bat does 45×5. Why is a bat special against a giant cactus in a baseball stadium? BECAUSE THAT'S WHAT WE CAME UP WITH, SO THERE.
There was one time that almost seemed intuitive, but for the wrong reason. At the end of world 3, I brought a really stupid sticker along (this thing is useless in battle) because it fit the theme of the big task at hand, being, soak up all the poison that's ruining the forest. I brought it along thinking I'd need to place it somewhere, but instead, it happened to have a pre-coded deus ex machina for the final boss of that world. I couldn't believe it.

The final battle is, comically, a big chain of special stickers you need. Through some happenstance, I figured them all out on my own (or at least I found a winning combination), but the game's so fucking cheap, it doesn't matter, anyway. The final Bowser fight (spoiler: the bad guy is Bowser in this plotless wasteoid called a game) consists of FOUR consecutive sticker gotchas. I really only solved three of them; one by happy accident, one by "well, I have a sticker that'll get rid of this asshole the old-fashioned way," and one by having the correct sticker literally fall from the sky to me during the fight. Here's the kicker: being that I do have some wit about me, I devised a sticker combination that allowed me to deal 600 damage in one long turn to practically any enemy, and I used it on bowser, who has 450 HP. The result is that after he's down to 10 HP, all further attacks do no damage at all. After the asshole dried up, and I dealt him one more zero-damage blow, he proceeded to the next sticker gotcha phase and healed as usual.

What this seems symptomatic of, to me, is that the developers were eager and industrious enough to add one special sticker to each fight, but too lazy or pressed for time to add, say, more than one... or drop any cues apart from giving you the correct sticker in battle. Perhaps they just weren't clever enough. Perhaps they didn't see it as a problem that they give you literally one way to play the game and win the battle.

Remember that linearity complaint...?

Anyway, my favorite example of this is the chain chomp fight. It gives you a save block, and teaches you the "go ahead and reset" way three things:

1. Chain Chomps like sleeping.
2. Chain Chomps cannot be damaged (except by glitching), or woken until three turns have passed.
3. When the chain chomp wakes up, he will attack; if he's not tied down, he will escape, ending the battle.

It is important that it teaches you this, because you must employ this knowledge in the next stage to remove a chain chomp from your path. The expected battle structure is this:

1. The battle commences.
2. You use a sleepy sheep hammer.
3. The Chain Chomp goes to sleep.
4. You flee from the battle, leaving the Chain Chomp asleep.
5. You disconnect the Chomp from his chain.
6. You re-enter the battle, and wait for the chomp to awaken, like last time.

Issue is, they didn't bother to code you in any help, AT ALL. Your success rate for fleeing the battle while the motherfucker is asleep is about 10%. You can exhaust ALL of your sheep hammers before you ever manage to flee the battle. WHAT THE FUCK, DEVELOPERS? HOW did this get through beta? This obscure fucking tactic was already going out on a limb, and now you want me to do it while putting up with your game's assery? How fucking hard is it to flee from a dog on a leash, WHILE THE FUCKING DOG IS ASLEEP? Holy shit.

Anyway, sorry for the rant. Also, not sorry; I had a lot of fun writing it. About as much fun as I had playing the game, actually. Indeed; I enjoyed the game, regardless. It made me think, even if the thinking was in vain because they either spell the fucking answer out for you or give you no way of inducing it whatsoever. And you can probably tell from the structure of my pain points that I spent the entire game trying to find ways to break it. It was fun doing that. Turns out, there aren't any ways to break it (there are some tricks, but you literally can't proceed without beating all five levels, any way you slice it; you're just completely better off playing it through by level number). And when the game finally ended, I was sad, not because it was a very good game, but because that was all I had.... Nintendo hasn't been putting out many games in my favorite franchises, lately....

So. Thanks for stopping in. If you still make games, learn from this example how not to make a game. If you still play games, learn from this example how to avoid this particular game. It will only break your heart and kill you.

JoshDreamland posted on October 29, 2015 at 2:26 AM

Tooth Hurty

Scene: my bed, yesterday morning, 2:30 AM.

I wake up, and it feels as though someone has punched me in the lower jaw. I can't believe how bad this hurts; what have I done? One of my teeth must be acting up, I assume. I grab a dental floss stick and begin agitating between the teeth to see if any one tooth would give a response. Nothing. So I turn the pick over and begin gently biting down on the broad side using the teeth that hurt. No... no... no... no... crunch. The wisdom tooth directly above the teeth that hurt shattered, sending pieces of tooth throughout my mouth. In a dazed, sleepy state of shock, I began fishing around my mouth for pieces of tooth. After I collected them all, I grabbed a dental mirror to explore the damage. It was ugly.

The four or five teeth under my now-shattered tooth immediately ceased to hurt, but the tooth in question eventually resumed in their place. Interestingly, there was a period during which I felt no pain. Perhaps if I had just taken some ibuprofen and gone to bed, could have sorted the affair in the morning. But that's not what I ended up doing.

As I probed the tooth with my finger to see what had happened, the pain set in, and coupled with the horror of what had just happened (I had actually had a nasty dream about this a month prior), I decided that the tooth had to go. I went into the other room, grabbed a screw driver, and began prying.

Over a year ago, I had a similar experience with the wisdom tooth on the other side of that row of teeth. It didn't hurt; I just discovered one day that a lot of it was missing, and for the most part, I left it be (I gave it a small tug with some floss to see if it would come, but I gave up quickly enough). The dentist took some sort of dental screwdriver and quickly pried it apart from the neighboring tooth, then grabbed a pair of forceps and twisted it out of my skull. It was a painless, simple procedure. How hard can that be to reproduce?

Guided by horror stories about my father having failed to extract his wisdom tooth using pliers, instead shattering it to where it had to be cut out of his head, I decided to stick with the screwdriver. My prior dentist had left a passing remark that my father should have used one if he was going to attempt that sort of thing on his own, so I figured this was the best place to start.

No amount of force was going to get this screwdriver to successfully pry this tooth from my head.

I started just by twisting the screwdriver to separate the wisdom tooth from its neighbor, as my dentist had done. No real issues. But when I started applying the serious torque to remove it, shit hit the fan. I couldn't get enough grip, and I couldn't apply enough force. Not to mention I was salivating in hyperdrive. I was about to soak my clothing in drool. So I got in the shower.

This continued in the shower until I had enough area on the tooth to begin pulling on it with my fingers on the screwdriver shaft. At this point, I decided to add more tooling. Unfortunately, all I had at hand was a few shampoo bottles. So I opened my mouth, shoved the shampoo bottle in, placed my head against one wall and my foot on the opposite, put my knee cap to the shampoo bottle, and just started shoving. I crushed the shampoo bottle quickly.

Each one of my ankles can put out about 300-400 pounds of force. I wasn't anywhere near that to crush the shampoo bottle. So I went to get something more durable.

After some choosing, I settled on a hammer. Not ready to return to the shower, I sat in the hallway and repeated the operation using the handle of the hammer in place of the shampoo bottle. I must have put 30-50 pounds of force on this system. It wasn't enough. The only thing that happened is the occasional miss, which would result in the screwdriver scraping into the roof of my mouth.

I was at this for four hours, until the fifth occurrence of the screwdriver missing at about 5:00 AM. At this point, the pain was dying down and my need for sleep was reaching a breaking point. I crawled into bed with my screwdriver, and after a few more prods, finally managed to roll over and fall asleep.

The rest is pretty much history; after I woke up, I booked a dental appointment for today at 10:30 (about a 26 hour delta from wakeup time). I went in, to a totally new dentist now that I live in PA, and after a 15-minute numbing window, he removed the tooth in two minutes with some forceps. No prying was needed, for reasons left unspoken. He awarded me an A for effort, after some opening remarks that he found the damage I did to my mouth "pretty stupid." He apparently was telling his assistant about it, because when he showed her the screwdriver crater, saying "see is?" and she nodded with a brief "I see what you mean," I could basically hear an entire conversation of him explaining. "see, this is that retarded shit I told you this dumbass did yesterday night," and her replying "Yeah, that's every bit as retarded as you indicated."

But hey, I enjoyed myself, and that's the important part. As a souvenir, I requested the tooth in a to-go box. He did as requested; the roots are pretty whacky, but not as bad as the last one; they're good and thick this time, and they converge instead of snaking out in all directions. Where two of them converge, there's a small piece of my jaw bone. Also it's bloody as shit, but like, what do you want?

Bonus fun fact: I occasionally get headaches. Some of these headaches really suck. In fact, I'd go through all of that again just to save myself a headache in the future.