(What) Were They Thinking?

I just ran into what has to be the buggiest piece of software... ever. Bear in mind that I predate DOS games and have had experience getting games to run in Win 3.1 and even Win ME--some of them games that push the limit of the "Minimum Recommended System Requirements". Maybe time has softened old wounds, but nothing in my  memory comes even close to the horror that is Dark and Light. Seriously. Couple all those bugs with the worst "support" I can remember and you get an experience that is simply best forgotten. Or better, best never begun.

I mean, I've been in alpha tests that were smoother and more consistent. Who ever heard of a launcher that breaks when IE 7 is installed? Seriously, what dependency does your license query have that will hang just because a user has installed IE 7? How does an upgrade to IE 7 cause a simple dialog box with "Accept" and "Decline" buttons on it to consume 80% of my CPU capacity indefinitely (or at least, for the 25 minutes I allocated for what-the-heck-let's-see-what-happens time)? Also, what company posts a message to their support forums that says merely "the devs say they have fixed this" and then nothing more for weeks when it remains, obviously, unfixed?

And here's the thing: even once I got it working (on an older machine--that's right, a game where I had to effectively downgrade my system to get it to run), the game is possibly the worst MMO I've ever played. I admit that I didn't play long before wiping the travesty off my network. Still, that's going to leave a lasting worst-case benchmark for some time to come.

It's not just that it'd be an insult to High School students to say that it's as if the quests were written by one. It's not just that the translation into English (I'm guessing from French due to the number of prepositional insertions involved) could have been done better by the junior varsity football team after a particularly boisterous homecoming celebration. It's not just that key marketing features were mentioned enough by quest NPCs to be intrusive (mentioning how "big" the world is that often leaves me wondering what they're compensating for). And it's not even just the most generic recycled noob monsters imaginable (seriously, rats, badgers, and bees, oh my! And I suspect the badgers were a desperate late addition, inserted by scaling the rat and giving it a different label).

It's that when you take all these together with a game offering fairies as a playable race, you just know that you have reached depths of crap that will (hopefully) never be repeated in my lifetime. It's like a bunch of executives sat down around a table and generated a list of "features" that they could create to take advantage of this great new kind of game the kids are all playing these days and then went out and hired the cheapest programmers they could find to design and implement it. Seriously, if I were a programmer on that project, I'd slip that one down the ole memory hole and invent some lie to put on my resume in its place--something more respectable like, say, time in the state penitentiary for koala bear poaching.

To entice people into this crap-pile, the publisher has introduced a "Discovery Mode" where you can play to level 10 for free. That's an indication of desperation, make no mistake. I feel for the (possibly) earnest people who put this thing together, but it has to be acknowledged as one of the bigger wastes of money ever perpetrated on an unsuspecting planet. I'd like to say something snide about it being a French production, but seriously, you'd think that'd be enough punishment on its own.

UPDATE: If for some inexplicable reason you have inflicted D&L on yourself and need something to redeem the entire clone concept, Shamus Young has an interesting post on a Diablo II clone that doesn't suck.

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5. January 2007 20:06 by Jacob | Comments (2) | Permalink

Torchwood Needs to Fire a Writer

We've been enjoying Torchwood lately, but there's a problem with the series that stands out and threatens to ruin my ability to watch it at all. Since the major suckage seemed to originate with a single person, I hit tv.com and left a review there which I reproduce below for your edification.


"Talentless"

The problem with a series as excellent as Torchwood is that it tends to show up the weaknesses of talentless writers such as Chris Chibnall.

We’ve been enjoying the new Dr. Who spin-off series Torchwood. The characters are unique, fresh, and explore that edge where really bad things happen in the absense of good guys taking forceful action (and often being hurt in the process--both emotionally and physically). In this respect, Torchwood holds its own with shows like Buffy: Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Veronica Mars.

Almost all of the episodes are awesome and have the characters struggling to do right in tough situations where the demarkation between good and bad are blurred. Almost all. Unfortunately, two episodes so far have proven to be complete disasters with the characters behaving uncharacteristically in what appears to be a naked appeal to emotional drama. Those episodes have something in common: they were written by Chris Chibnall.

Chris has Jack acting so completely out of character in Cyberwoman that I found myself literally staring at the screen wondering if I had actually seen what I thought I saw. I lost track of the number of times Chris had Jack making threats to Ianto only to back down for no reason whatsoever. I mean, who goes from threatening to shoot you in the head if you go down and help the enemy right into giving you the gun and telling you that you have 10 minutes to kill that enemy you’re bent on "saving"? How on Earth would Jack think that Ianto would do something he had steadfastly refused to do throughout the entire episode?

Jack’s actions could have been just temporary blunders, though, if it weren’t for the portrayal of the episode’s title character. Caroline Chikezie did a fine job portraying Lisa given what she had to work with from Chris Chibnall. But Chris had the Lisa character changing from cyber voice to normal voice and from professing love to promoting upgrading apparently based solely on what he felt would be most emotional at that moment. He displayed no discernable thought to consistency or rational behavior or plot development.

In a later episode, Countrycide, Chris again has the whole team making threats and failing to follow through on them and acting in ways that make no sense to the series dynamic or the characters as developed thus far. I mean, when Jack came into the final scene shooting people’s knee-caps I practically dropped out of my chair laughing. I mean, seriously, a room full of armed villians and Jack is going to be careful to make sure they are still capable of shooting him or, more importantly, his friends? It makes no sense.

And that’s the core of the problem with Chris’ episodes. He has no sense of rational actions or behavior, relying instead on raw emotion and drama. It’s as if he’s hoping that if he works fast enough nobody will notice that he actually has no grip on the characters, the plot, or even basic cause and effect.

I shudder to think how he is preparing to screw up the season finale. Maybe I’ll stop watching the show now and save myself the coming aggravation and disappointment of seeing the characters and plot circle back on themselves in an emotional vortex sucking the strength and resolve out of a story I enjoy and respect.

9. December 2006 09:08 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Blogging Software

It's always the little things that chafe, you know? I mean, for the most part I'm happy with Windows Live Spaces, but there are little things that bug me from time to time so I find myself getting antsy. On the plus side, I like the modules and the freedom to place them where I want them. I like the book list (but I'd like it better if I could a) put it in the order I want and b) could rate the books listed there). I like my links.

But I find that I keep wanting things I get with more of a hosting service. I want more control. I'm a tinkerer, what can I say? So I've been looking at blogging software a bit. Since I have an account at Go Daddy, I'd like to find something that I can use there, and I'd like very much for it to be created in ASP.NET. It'd be nice if it was open source as well, if only so I can tweak and explore at my own capricious whim. Also, as long as I'm putting together a wish-list, how about if it could be programmed in ASP.NET 2.0? I mean, master pages and application themes with skinning support is, uh, lacking an appropriate white-guy expression, "da shiz".

The front-runners in the .NET space for blogging software appear to be SubText and DasBlog--both are branches from their progenitor .Text which appears to be defunct. Unfortunately, since .Text was originally ASP.NET 1.1, both SubText and DasBlog are rooted in that technology. They both support custom themes, but they had to hack ASP.NET 1.1 to do so--mostly with custom controls.

DasBlog

I was originally drawn more to DasBlog because I've become a fan of Scott Hanselman--first from his podcasts, Hanselminutes, but later to his blog (which actually uses DasBlog, kudos for eating the dinner you've made). He's one of those over-producers who seems to have his hand in on fifteen million things at a time and is able to simultaneously talk about it all.

However, DasBlog's main website is frequently down, and there doesn't appear to be a lot of action in the form of improvements, releases, news, or updates. Which makes me wonder if it isn't a dying product, suffering from Scott's hyper interests.

SubText

SubText is developed by another blogger I like, Phil Haack. Phil also lives in the house he built so you'll hear his experiences with SubText on his blog sometimes. I was intrigued to see him announce that SubText 1.9 has been released recently. SubText 1.9 is a project conversion to ASP.NET 2.0 so I was reasonably excited to see its release.

So excited that I went ahead with an install. It was a painful experience. Not because SubText isn't a pretty good product, but an install on a cheap Go Daddy account is a step or three down from the expected configuration. The main blockage is that while Go Daddy gives you dbo (owner) privileges on your database, you have highly restricted rights on the master database. Unfortunately, the install assumes that you can use a select on a master location to see if a table already exists and that select blew chunks.

One advantage of open source, though, is that someone reasonably competent (or simply lucky as is more likely my case) can dig through the install process and see what needs to happen. Since I could see that the table didn't exist, I ran the script manually. Unfortunately, since the install tracks installation stage in memory instead of checking the database, I ended up having to do the entire install manually instead of just that first step. Ouch.

So it was a hack, but it appears to have succeeded. I'm not entirely happy with the implementation, though, because while SubText is now ASP.NET 2.0, it doesn't actually use the new  master page and theme features. Those may be implemented in future, but since that's a relatively fundamental alteration, it would break a lot of things--particularly a lot of user-created theme files. Creating work for yourself is one thing, but making your users go back and re-do all the custom themes they so generously contributed to your project is going to be a hard sell when there isn't a well established benefit. Indeed, the roadmap implies that if it happens, it's at least two releases away (and frankly, 2.1 looks a little daunting to me and should probably be cut down some if they want to take less than a year with it).

SUB

One of Phil's more endearing traits is a kind of perverse generosity that led him to advertise for a competitor (while throwing down the gauntlet of course). Since I'm not entirely happy with SubText, I thought that I'd give SUB (Single-User Blog) a look-see.

Frankly, I like SUB. It's pretty simple and since it's done from scratch in ASP.NET 2.0, it has all the goodies I've been looking for and some I had thought of but didn't figure I could get.

Unfortunately, SUB has two draw-backs that make me hesitate. The first is that it is, as its title clearly states, single-user. One thing I came to like about SubText is that you can support more than one blog from an installation. Indeed, I was able to point both domains I had registered with Go Daddy to the same location, have them run the exact same files, and yet have each site perfectly individualized (it does this by checking the incoming URL address to know which blog settings to use).

The second draw-back has to do with my personal tastes in programming, so I'm going to leave that for another post.

So what?

I've no idea what I'll end up doing with my blog(s). Since one of them is a new one for Cawti, I'll have to make some relatively irrevocable choices really soon here. I'm feeling all Frankensteiny, thought, so I may just mash pieces of lots of different things together so I can terrorize intolerant villagers. Yeah, that sounds fun...

 

7. September 2006 03:44 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

Cultural Translations and Observations

 

Okay, more Bollywood. I can't help it, it's interesting to me.

Tere Naam

We saw Tere Naam a couple weeks ago. I was underwhelmed. It's a Romeo & Juliet/West Side Story cultural translation, but it just didn't work for me. More specifically, the guy worked, but the girl was incomprehensible. Seriously, I couldn't figure out what she saw in him. He was violent and loud and she was a relatively together, smart kind of person. He kidnaps her and threatens to kill her so she decides she's in love. Makes no sense. The description does the hero something of a disservice, actually. He's shown from the beginning to be a rough character with a core decency that makes you care about him. Her attraction to him simply makes no sense. It makes even less sense that she'd get all tragic when asked to marry a guy who is genuinely nice, cares for her a lot, and is honorable to a fault. Yeah, she'd rather marry Mr. Broody, but that wasn't an option (and I mean because he's functionally brain-dead, not because he's being a dork). Or hey, here's a thought, don't marry anybody for a while. Sheesh. I admit there may be some cultural nuances I'm missing and the bit about her dad pressuring her to marry may be more potent if I understood the expectations better, but her dad hadn't been played as all that domineering or unreasonable to that point.

Anyway, this is the first Bollywood movie that felt long to me. Funny thing, it's one of the shortest so far. The best part of it was the special features on disc 2 of the DVD we had borrowed. It turns out that Salman Khan only looks really bad with the stupid haircut he had in this movie. Disc 2 has a bunch of his song and dance numbers from his other movies (which go back two decades if you can believe that--he looks half his 40-odd age). The best ones are his latest ones because he's bulked up a lot in the last decade. It looks good on him. Definite eye-candy for the ladies (and the men who are comfortable with their sexuality). Seriously, that man exudes cool despite the pouty lips.

Rather than buy the DVD for those numbers, though, I'd look up anything from his later work and get those instead. They look good from their numbers.

Paheli

Shahrukh Khan is fast becoming my favorite actor (in any industry). He exudes charm and an irresistible likability that makes you want to get to know him better. In Paheli, he shows that it isn't the roles he's getting and that the charm is completely under his control. He plays two roles in this film--the son of a business man just married but compelled to leave the following morning because it is an "auspicious" day to begin a business venture, and a ghost who falls in love with the bride while they are traveling to their new home. The ghost decides his best bet for getting with her is impersonating the poor sap while he's away (for five years--long business venture). Playing the son, Khan is completely unsympathetic in a very strange way. It isn't that he's repulsive. He's obsequious and rather self-involved is all. And he ignores his new bride on their bridal night because he has to "get the accounts done". Seriously, the man is an idiot.

Anyway, Paheli is based on a common story and the setting is (probably deliberately) vague as to time period and location. What is interesting to me are some very subtle cultural interactions in the film that struck me. Some spoilers ensue, but I don't consider them terribly earth-shaking.

First off, the brother that left his wife and young child because he lost a camel race. To me, that's just stupid. The other people seem to think it's stupid too, but more in a "I'm sorry he felt so dishonored" kind of way rather than a "he did what?!?" kind of way. That's not the interesting part of this side-story, though. The interesting part was when he returned (because his "brother" won a camel race--which is even weirder to me, but there you go). When he comes back, he begs his wife to forgive and his son to embrace him. Funny thing: his family isn't pressuring her one way or another. This is left entirely up to her (bearing in mind that they've supported her this entire time so it's not really a surprise I guess). The young son (he looked 10 or so) when facing his father's request for a hug takes his cue from his mother. There is no hint that this would be weird or wrong or abnormal in any way. The husband doesn't see this as odd. He says nothing about his rights and does nothing to plead directly to the boy or forestall and/or override her potential denial. The whole scene was very indicative of a culture centered on large-family units that had a real sense of obligation and internal justice. One where the parents (who owned and ruled the compound) were more loyal to their daughter-in-law and her boy than to their son. I found that fascinating, particularly as the era was so deliberately obscured which would seem to argue that such values are long-standing.

The second incident that made me pause was at the end when both a) the son returned and the family is faced with two men completely identical--one obviously an imposter, and b) the original bride has a child that can only be from the one who has been around all this time. The whole time they're trying to determine which one is the real son/husband, there seems to be little or no worry about who the child's father is. It seems to be enough that he is the child of the daughter-in-law. Or at least, the question of parentage is forestalled and considered tangential to the question of which is the real man and which the imposter. Further, when it comes out that the child is from the imposter, the household opinion is (specifically, carefully, even lovingly expressed) that it is no fault of the mother or child for being deceived. In other words, the expectation was that they would support the mother and child as if both men had been legitimately their son/brother/whatever. This is extremely magnanimous and open handed considering that, again, the extended family was geared to support those who were technically no blood-kin of theirs both emotionally and materially. Now, I don't know how extensive that support would have been over time. I don't know what might have played in later rights of inheritance or anything because the movie ends pretty much there. Even so, this is a cultural strength that seems to be a given and not emphasized like it would be if it were odd.

These cultural moments may be distinct to the single movie and certainly there are Western movies that might have decided those crisis points the same way. Still, these moments earned my respect and made me love the people in the movie and wish I knew more people like them. And it confirmed that I'll gladly watch anything with Shahrukh Khan in it. At least, until I find the one that sucks. So far, they've all been outstanding.

 

21. August 2006 14:01 by Jacob | Comments (0) | Permalink

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