Thoughts on the Steambox

Honestly, I have not been a fan of Valve for quite some time, so I might be a bit bias here, but I am truly mystified by a lot of the Steambox stuff. I can’t say it won’t succeed — because people are crazy and love Valve unconditionally — but this doesn’t look like a gaming future I want. Though Valve is also the company that says the future of gaming is vast economies of user generated content. That’ll probably make em’ (and creators) a bunch of money, but look, I played Second Life. Thats a future of mediocrity, sustained only through microtransactions and I see no reason as a consumer to be excited for it. But I digress.

First, the controller. The only positive thing I can think about it is that Tommy Refenes saying it’s okay. Tommy is one of the few people picky enough for his opinions to matter to me, but I really need to hear more thoughts from people I can trust before I can totally be on board. Honestly the trackpad part seems clever and I can see it working well in a variety of ways, but the button situation still seems dubious. People keep saying you can map the right pad to be buttons and use magical haptics to make it work, but that still sounds less to idea. You have a controller that can play FPSs (Valve’s genre of choice) possibly better than a modern gamepad, but still in a player pool of people playing on Mouse and Keyboard. You can play mouse driven games like strategy games, but the faster the game is or the more keyboard commands it needs, the less likely it is to work. Maybe the screen-buttons thing will totally fix that? Tommy can play Super Meatboy on it but it still seems less than idea for platformers. Any 3rd person consoley game fails due to the lack of buttons (this case, not because of tactile reasons, but literally just from not having all the buttons necessary to do so). Dark Souls? Nope, not enough inputs. Hell, going back to FPSs, I was watching a cousin play Battlefield on the 360 and it too basically used every input possible down to the d-pad. You can offload that stuff to the screen or the side 4 buttons but that doesn’t make it ergonomic or enjoyable (not that using a shitty d-pad for stuff is great either, to be fair).

Atop that, with all the fancy haptic stuff and the touchscreen, the thing looks like it’s going to be hella expensive. You could maybe force this sort of interesting design choice with a real console. Bundled and with games designed for it, consoles can get away with a lot… but even if a non-bundled product is super successful (The Kinect, which made oodles of bills) designers are still loathe to design content for it. This is the whole reason the One is forcing you to have a Kinect — only by doing that will designers consider working with it seriously. But that isn’t the case at all for the steam controller. In fact it’s many times worse. It will be a weird, likely expensive controller in a market loaded with cheap controllers that are still pretty good and the 360 controller which (despite my personal taste) is a defacto standard. Even if a lot of things are as good as we can hope, this still seems like a niche product for people who wanna play 4Xs on their TV.

Then there is the OS. I got mixed feelings here. Valve is pushing for linux and there is a part of me that goes ‘that’s good’ (I like linux, even if i’m not a regular desktop user) but it seems like a push that’s not ‘necessary’. Windows 8 wasn’t nearly as closed as we feared and seems to be backing up a bit in 8.1. We also know old versions of windows can last an eternity out in the wild. 33% of windows computers run XP and while a lot of this is probably corporate, I’m sure we know many people who still run XP. That’s 12 years old. Then again, any push Valve takes for Linux will probably take a long time (not necessarily 12 years but.. years) so…. I dunno. It’s not like they have a choice though — if they’re going to do an OS it basically HAS to be linux or they’re only making their problems worse. That said, I’m still not sure where the appeal is going to be outside of curious enthusiasts, at least for now. Streaming from desktop is kinda neat, depending on how good it runs. I wonder if such a feature will remain SteamOS exclusive? It doesn’t seem like it’d need to be and Valve, to their credit, does tend to be the type of company that would try and deploy a feature everywhere. That said, it’s linux, so there isn’t much to say here outside of I find it a little scary as a developer, but I probably won’t have to worry about it for awhile.

The Steambox stuff doesn’t sound all that impressive. It’s commodity parts in a fancy case running their OS. Especially when people are going to be more likely to be streaming games from their PC than run native linux games (lol) the specs seem like overkill. The machine its self offers nothing special so unless they sell it at a loss to try and get SteamOS adoption up, it looks basically no different from anything else. You could probably just plug a laptop in through HDMI and get the same play experience. This also gets to the whole ‘play in your living room’ thing. I’m bias here again — I have no fondness for ‘the living room’. I haven’t gamed ‘in the living room on the couch on a saturday morning’ (thanks Phil Fish) since probably the NES. I got a TV in my room in time for the SNES and that was it. Still, we have a solution for gaming in the living room. We have consoles for that. They’re almost certainly cheaper than the steambox will be, and the games on them are designed for their controllers and are also designed to be viewed at a distance. The language of interfaces is different for ‘TV at a distance’ than monitor (I mean, why else would we need something like Big Picture?). So you would, in theory, pay more money to buy a library of games that don’t even necessarily support the controller your system came with to play games that are visually not designed to play that way. I know there are people who wish they could do that anyways, but in general, that does not seem like a particularly impressive value proposition when the other living room gaming options are more stronger experiences.

So I’m not really impressed or looking forward to anything they’re doing right now (besides SteamOS a little maybe? It’s good to have a big developer invested in linux) but hey, Valve is magic so everyone might buy whatever they sell regardless. :(

Weird Visual Phenomena!

This is silly and not usually the type of thing I put on my blog, but of recent I’ve been trying to find the name (if one exists) for a visual phenomena I’ve had since I was a kid.

In the center of my vision, I can often see a ‘cluster of bubbles’, much like a 2d atomic nucleus. It seems to exist out in space rather than ‘on’ my eye and has the general color and feel of phosphene/closed eye hallucinations. It is eye independant and persists with my eyes closed. It seems to move and flicker when I’m noticing it, otherwise it’s often invisible. I can see it the most when it’s dark.

As a kid I thought it was like a ghost or something, and my little kid brain would make it seem bigger or make me think it was flying around (as my eyes moved around, steering it). For the most part as I got older I didn’t give it much thought and I could go months without thinking about it or noticing it but I’ve just recently gotten super interesting to find out if it’s a “thing” people have. I’ve talked to a few people who have described something similar but not many.

Things it’s probably not:

Floaters: I see floaters too and it’s definitely not floaters. Floaters don’t ‘animate’ or flicker and the illusion I see is eye independant.

Haidinger’s Brush: Though it might be related. I see more than 4 ‘points’ quite often and again, works best in the opposite conditions as the brush. That said, I might be seeing the same cause (blue/yellow describes the color well and like the Brush, exists center on the macula). When I first read about the brush I was like “THATS IT” but apparently not

Detached Retina Particles: Again, eye independant and exists in darkness.

Scintillating Scotoma: Illustrations seem crazy different and I’ve never had migraines.

Anyways, if any of you can see this, feel free to tell me! I’d find it very interesting! If you know if it’s a named phenomena with an explanation, I will be even more thrilled!

Aces Wild released!


This game is beastly. My bro, Tyler Doak, has been working on this for like 5 years. Most of you probably have heard me talk about it, but nows your chance to buy it. it’s 10 bucks right now in the Humble Store. It’s an amazing 2d brawler with ridiculous air controller that feels something like a punchy Bayonetta or something. It’s a game practically made for people who like difficult action games and playing for score/rank and stuff. Everything about the game just feels good — the hitstop, the effects, the sense of impact, the control during combos — it’s all amazing.

I’ve helped Tyler here and there with this game over the last year or so and I really wanna see it get some of the attention it deserves. So if you feel up to it, purchase it here.

We don’t need more “Phil Fish”s

Since Phil’s departer from game design, I’ve heard many people in the industry defend him saying we need more people like him. Most notably CliffyB, but we also have articles like Ben Kuchera’s article on why you want assholes designing your games.

No. We don’t need more assholes. No, we don’t need more people like Phil Fish. Indie devs like Blow and Rorher say stuff that create drama all the time… yet neither of them are nearly as reviled as Fish is. Phil Fish doesn’t ‘deserve’ the treatment he’s gotten. No one deserves to be harassed by thousands of people for stuff said about videogames. But he definitely earned it. He cultivated it. I’ve seen it pointed out during the famous “Japanese games suck” incident that people were surprised that it wasn’t Jonathan Blow that ended up under fire. Phil was being glib to move the conversation. The reason it spiraled for Fish and not Blow is because Fish embraced his drama. He acted above it while deeply wading in it. Stuff like his comments about the PC version of Fez was basically either intentionally inflammatory or massively out of touch. When you’re the single most reviled person in the indie scene, we don’t need more of you.

Fez worked for people. You can’t fairly say Phil was bad at what he did (though you can still criticize it). It probably would have been better to have more of what he did. But his abrasive personality was by far his most defining feature. Jonathan Blow is know for being abrasive too — but not in the same way. Blow speaks his mind frankly and often from a weird perspective. Blow is brutal. Blow gets his reputation for his convictions. Phil Fish has it… because he’s a dick?

So why want more Fishs when we can want so many other indie creators?

Why be Phil Fish when you can be Jonathan Blow instead? Why be Phil Fish when you can be Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes? Why be Phil when you can be Bennett Foddy or Doug Wilson? Cactus, Rorher, Auntie fucking Pixelante? Why not be Konjak, or Derek Yu… Pixel or Niffles? Why not be DanC, or Chris Hecker? Why not be Terry Cavanagh? He has a great accent! Why not be Jenova Chen? Hell, why aim small. Why not be Hideo Kojima, a Hidetaka Miyazaki, or a Hideki Kamiya? Why not more of whatever you are? Just try not to be a dick!

This list could go on forever. Almost no one on this list is beyond criticism. I surely disagree with everyone here about something. Some of them make some people (including me) very mad sometimes. But their games speak louder than their twitter accounts (well maybe not Kamiya’s…). Brilliant artists might often be abrasive, but we don’t need to forgive them for it. Teaching someone to shut their mouth or so sympathy or empathy will not make them a worse artist. We don’t need more asshole worship.

With all the amazing role-models in game design, no one should be looking at someone like Phil Fish and going “I need to be that”. Fish’s value as a role-model is to teach you want not to do. He made the mistakes for you and he paid the price for you. As much as I don’t like Phil, I might even say it isn’t fair that he paid the price for all of us. But he did and it says something very clearly.

Don’t be like Phil Fish.

How We Might Enjoy Things Differently: Internal vs External

Two artists get two different phones. One gets an iPhone. Beautiful and perfect out of the box. The other get’s some android phone. It’s gross and has awful pre-installed garbage on it so he roots it, flashes the rom, spends hours customizing widgits. The result probably isn’t as good as Apple’s best offering. The artist with the Apple Phone asks why the artist with the android phone would buy such a shoddy, poorly designed device. The Artist with the android phone asks why would he buy a phone where he can’t express them self.

Neither of these artists are inherently more artistic than the other. They prioritize things differently. The first person wants to surround themselves with well designed things. They want everything they own to be expertly designed and use their knowledge to choose well. He is externally minded. His phone isn’t about him. His phone and it’s design is about the phone. He shows his taste by having what he thinks is the best, most well designed phone. To the second, everything he owns his about him and a tool to use to express himself. He is internally minded. Instead of wanting a universally well designed phone, he wants exactly what he wants. This doesn’t necessarily mean gaudy and garish and filled with pictures of his dogs. Perhaps it’s high contrast minimalism, vs iOS7’s pastel minimalism. Maybe it’s the same style, but the Internally Minded artist still wants it to be his.

As a person in the second camp who’s often defending my self from people in the first camp I’ve always found this divide interesting and I think it might apply to more than just artists and what they look for (in the case of phones, inherently good design vs control), but perhaps how we enjoy all media. This also isn’t a dichotomy. Plenty of people fall in in the middle and you can also want both traits. We might also approach different types of things differently, but whatever.

So let’s talk about literature (though this can apply to any story driven media). I’ve often read people talk about the ‘meaning’ of a book and what it’s trying to say. They will deride books written with no inherent thesis or will try and manufacture meaning where it doesn’t exist. Some books definitely serve themselves better to this sort of study, but others (Anything by Stephen King, for example, who sorta just writes has he goes with only very basic planning) really don’t. But what’s the opposite of the externally minded reader? It’s not as clear cut as the design example. Still, I think the difference is that the internally minded person is driven more by things like curiosity and wonder and characters. External analysis talks about the author and what he’s trying to say. Internal talks about how we feel and how we relate to it and what it makes us curious about. If we were to talk about the extreme version of internal enjoyment, we’d talk about people writing fanfiction and roleplaying fan characters. They literally are taking a degree of personal ownership over the work. This compared to the far end of external analysis, which is cold and clinical. How you felt doesn’t matter — if you don’t get why something was written the way it was, you’re “missing the point”. Who understands the meaning of the story better? The person who has deciphered the authors opinions, or the person who gleams a personal truth? Personally, I pass no judgement.

I even see the same thing in games. Different games have different capacities for self-expression. A Sudoku has no player expression. You solve it and each successful move you make is the same one anyone else who’s succeeding would make, with skill being the only differenting factor. Tetris is highly driven by optimized play, so skill is again almost key, though some players of the same skill level may make different decisions and express different styles and have slightly different strengths and weaknesses, ultimately it’s not very expressive. Something simple like Mario is very expressive. Situations can be approached many different ways and as long as you’re not speedrunning it, you can approach the game a ton of different ways. Then you have games like Devil May Cry which have moves and techniques that are, strictly speaking, unnecessary, but exist because the game wishes to give the players the ability to play stylistically. Fighting games can have two players of similar skill level playing a character two totally different ways. Stuff that seems useless and redundant to some designers/players is critical to other. This is also probably why we see a big divide in the effectiveness of plots in games. Those searching for perfectly well constructed thematic stories are often disappointed, while those who deeply indulge themselves in the worlds they play in become heavily invested.

I might be full of shit with all of this, but even if I’m not, I’m not sure what good any of it is. Still, the next time you argue with someone and it seems like they’re coming at the subject from an entirely different world, this might be why. This, or maybe a million other different reasons. Still, felt the need to put this out there.

Random E3 Thoughts

I generally don’t cover events but I’ve been talking about stuff enough to share.

X-Box One vs the Playstation 4

To be controversial for a moment, I think, pre-E3, that the X-Box One took too much flack. Most of this was self induced — Microsoft poorly communicated the nature of it’s new platform. You don’t here outrage that you can’t share games on Steam… because that’s what the X-Box One is. It’s an all digital platform. Yeah you can buy games on disc and install them if you REALLY WANT, but I suspect that Microsoft thinks that that’ll go away. If it wasn’t for the multimedia needs of a blu-ray drive for their media center vision, I would predict the the X-Box One would have shipped with NO optical drive. So if you ask your self what the X-Box One does worse than Steam, well… you got the 24 hour check-in (which honestly, as far as annoying DRM goes, is pretty reasonable for most use cases. It does completely fuck some people over though), and… shoving kinect down everyones throat. The rest is either stuff that you’d expect from a digital platform, or nonsense (Like the Kinect movie viewing patent. Every company files ridiculous patents all the time. Also that’d be so easy to fool. Just put a towel over your kinect). I guess a complaint could be “I don’t trust Microsoft to have sales and be as cool as Valve”, which is reasonable, but a different kind of criticism. Atop that it did seem to have some decent compromises (freely share games between up to 10 friends/family members sounded rad as hell). I don’t blame people for freaking out –pushback against any DRM is good and for the most part, Microsoft marketed themselves in ridiculous ways (DIGITAL USED GAMES GUYS OLOLOLOLOLOLOL).

That said, at E3 they offered nothing new and exciting and their price point, while not absurd for a new console (guys, you’re not supposed to buy this shit day one anyways, have some self control and protect your wallets), god extremely undercut by the PS4. This is actually the exact opposite of the situaiton I expected. I expected a situation where most people would be choosing between the more expensive, less evil option of the PS4, vs the cheaper, but perceived-to-be-shadier option of the X-Box One. This is also probably why the X-Box One didn’t have DVR capabilities — price was clearly a concern. The PS4 has most of the digital advantages the X-Box One has, plus a number of other neat, cool stuff like Gaikai and screen sharing and other neat stuff. It will likely be only a hair worse at being a multimedia center (no HDMI passthrough for cable), but few are going to care. So whether the X-Box One’s policies are truly evil or not is, post E3, irrelevant. PS4 has the advantage on pretty much every front including a significant price lead. The X-Box One might be able to recover after the first round of price cuts, but the early game is pretty much set I think.

On a sad ‘no one will care but me’ note, PS+ for multiplayer on the PS4? I’m booing so hard. I mean, I’m sure some people care, but not a lot. This makes me really annoyed, but at the same time I don’t think they should care about. I’m on the part of the curve where I WANT multiplayer when I want it, but don’t use it all that much. So if I go a month without playing a game online (which happens ALL THE TIME), I just flushed 5 dollars down the drain, which might not sound like a lot, but I hate wasting money. I’d basically be the guy subsidizing the cost for all the active users. 50 dollars a year isn’t a lot, but to play Street Fighter online like 6 times in a year and then bitch about lag? … Ugh. I could throw down for a few months to play a Souls game, but then that makes picking it back up less enthralling. Also I don’t want to hear crap about “PS+ gives you free game!” A) They’re not free. I’m paying for them. B) I don’t want to pay for games I don’t want. C) There have been PS3 games on + that I would play. Only problem is that -I already owned all of them-. Also since I don’t care about most of the extra features of the PS4 (though I acknowledge they’re cool), I’m basically paying for p2p matchmaking, which kills me. But oh well, I’m not a typical user and Sony ain’t owe me nothing. It just annoys me because that, plus the support for ps2 to usb adapters was basically the reason I went the PS3 route. Oh well, at least my USB joystick apparently will probably still work?

Oh well, my groaning doesn’t matter, I’m probably not going to pick a new console up for like another 3 years or something and while the PS4 is still my preferred choice, who knows what will happen in that time?

Metal Gear Solid 5

Metal Gear never felt more well acted. I hate to say it, but I think I’m okay seeing Hayter go. I still sorta feel the best compromise would be to have Hayter for the pre-coma/Ground Zeroes segment, but that might be too jarring. Either way, the game seems emotionally intense. A lot of the themes portrayed seem like something that only work in a situation like this — a situation where we have had years upon years to see the characters evolve. This is where we really get to see how Big Boss was driven to be the character he ended up being. Not much to say outside that the game looks beautiful and the open worldiness seems an extension of what made Metal Gear Solid 3 great. Kojima is one of gaming’s few auteur game makers in the AAA space. I’m sure the gameplay will simply be “Metal Gear, but better as always” and I’m okay with that.

Final Fantasy XV

I’m as shocked as any of you might be that I’m writing about a Final Fantasy, but the game looks to be a very very capable action game with awesome mobility options. I’ve sat around chatting about this for the last two days with Tyler Doak and we both, as action game snobs, think this looks amazing. It really seems to nail everything I’d wanna see in a trailer like this. Great movement, tons of dodging and attack options, dodging big enemies, attacks with various movement properties. That, with a Final Fantasy-ish aesthetic? I dig it. It might not deliver, but nothing I’m seeing is triggering any red flags.

Dark Souls 2

It’s more Dark Souls and I’ll get to play it in a year. Trailer is okay but I don’t think it reveals anything particularly interesting. It just does what it has to do — it looks solid.

Bayonetta 2

Same as the above. Looks like more Bayonetta 1, which is exactly what I’d want. Also looks sharp as hell and I mostly like her new redesign. DAT HAIR omg dat hair. Outfit is pretty cool, I like the white fabric and the ruffles and all that. Her weird mantle/bib thing is weird, but I like the neck part and shoulders. I’ll get used to it. Now I just need a friend to buy a Wii-U so I can steal it from them for a few days.

Titanfall

Those soldier jetpack things almost remind me of Shingeki no Kyojin’s 3d Manuevering Gear, just without the grappling hooks. Also someone needs to make a SnK game.

Smash Bros

I kinda really have always hated Smash so I don’t care that much, but Mega Man looks ADORABLE. What a great character model. Also anyone crying about the Wii Fit Trainer sucks. Her moves look great. I bet you just wished it was another sword guy. You scumbag. You should be ashamed.

Killer Instinct

This game has all the hitsparks. It’s kinda obscene to the point where I should hate it but I end up liking it. I will probably absolutely hate the game (FULL COMBO OFF OF FIREBALL YEAAAAAAH), but it looks like the people who are making it kinda care, so it might be interesting. The legecy of KI requires some obnoxious system stuff, but they seem to be doing a decent job making stuff work to… some degree.

I’m glad it exists, even if I never play it.

I guess that’s it. I guess the new Madkatz TE sticks look great? Shoulder straps, unscrewable capables and quick access to components? Sounds good to me.

edit: X-Box One info revealed by an anonymous developer. Said most of the stuff I’m saying. Again, not saying you should like the X-Box One. It doesn’t seem to be a better deal for the money. But understand what it is so you can have excellent, well thought out opinions about it.

Dark Souls Map Viewer

dsmap

The Dark Souls Map Viewer is one of those wonderful things that most people in the Dark Souls community don’t know about. Part of this is because there is no obvious public place talking about it, and because the update made by a 3rd party which added the DLC content was on a website that was infested with spyware.

Dark Souls Map Viewer is a program made by vlad001 on the xentax forums, who released the program open sourced. Ispohr on the Dark Souls Reddit re-released the map viewer, with the DLC content and a online map analytics too, but for whatever reason his website is now down (likely got hacked). Because of this, the Oolacile data file was kinda ‘lost’. A nice person over on Reddit posted it and I decided to package it up and host it. Now it’ll have a place to exist other than random rapidshare links. This is Vlad001’s with the map files from Ispohr’s release. Vlad001 has also been kind enough to endorse this mirror.

If you wanna get some idea what the Dark Souls Map Viewer is like, check out this video.

To Download the Dark Souls Map Viewer, Click Here

Thansk to Vlad, I was able to convert the DKSMV files into .obj files. The maps themselves are not the -actual- maps of Dark Souls but instead the collision maps. The game’s collision maps are surprisingly complete, even when it comes to objects you should never be able to reach, but keep this in mind if something seems missing.

I plan to use these to make a more ‘first person’ map viewer (Likely to be called Dark Souls Map Explorer). It likely won’t replace the viewer, as it is very effecient at what it does, but the Map Explorer will hopefully excel where DKSMV fails: In close and in doors. But feel free to use these in your own projects, but keep in mind that we’re technically playing with other peoples property.

To Download Dark Souls Collision Map Data, Click Here

Keep in mind that the data here is technically the property of Namco-Bandai and FROM. I think we can claim fair use on this tiny subset of data. Sharing it only benefits the community and, by extension Namco and FROM and the value of their products. but be respectful and know these resources many have to be removed at any time. I doubt that will happen (IWBTG still exists, after all), but it can.

Twitter’s 140 Character Limit Objectively Sucks

There was a time where I hated the concept of twitter. It made absolutely no sense to me. Why would ANYONE use such a service? Hell, I wouldn’t even use facebook for a long time. Now I’m on everything and I’m a social networking junky. Twitter is by far my FAVORITE place. It allows me to interact with fans and talk to people in a way that is less personal than instant messaging. If you want to interact with me regularly, Twitter is the place to do it.

… but I have this bitter-sweet relationship with Twitter because I really really hate the 140 character limit. I like twitter because (unlike say, Twitter) it is public and has a very public culture. Facebook lets you subscribe to feeds, but the culture isn’t the same as Twitter. I also like that you can’t use twitter for blogging. That would be a service like Livejournal. But 140 characters is just a bad number, no matter what a plethora of change fearing articles on the subject might say. The argument is over and app.net is the silver bullet. Let’s look at app.net’s Global Timeline. App.net has a character limit of 256. Are the results poison to the very idea of twitter? What percentage of posts do you see that even exceed 140 characters? The truth is simple — people aren’t going to start spamming twitter with bigger posts. Most people don’t have that much to say. What 256 characters mean is when they say it, they can say it well.

Critics will say “140 characters means you have to be succinct and get to the point”. Those people are lazy anti-intellectuals (well no, they’re probably all nice guys and gals, but they’re being those things on accident). How many discussions happen on twitter where someone tries to fit a complex idea on twitter and then has to spend 3 tweets explaining what they meant and correcting a whole bunch of people sending angry @ replies? Twitter is about communication (well, according to Twitter it’s self, it’s about BRANDS and FAMOUS PEOPLE but whatever, this doesn’t affect those things anyways). If the limit you have on communication is crummy, you communicate crummy, crude or simple ideas. Junk food thoughts, stripped of elegance or nuance. This stuff isn’t art — it’s probably bad for you. So in practice, the 256 character limit on app.net only comes up when it needs to.

But let’s forget app.net. It costs money to use, so it’s largely irrelevant for people like me. Even if I was willing to fork over money, not enough people will be willing to use the service to make it worthwhile to me.

What I want to say that I believe 140 characters is an objectively bad number. First, let us ask — why is Twitter 140 characters? Most people know the answer to this one. 160 characters is the SMS. Twitter reserves 20 characters for user names. Now, at this point, SMS use of twitter is probably low — low enough that they could simply cut off tweets that exceed the limit if need be and only a few users would be effected, so lets cut the SMS support out of this. At this point, 140 characters is cultural. I noticed an amazing thing over time. I rarely notice the SMS character limit, but hit it all the time on twitter. Usually with less than 20 characters. I’ve theorized for a long time that 160 characters were chosen to comfortably accommodate 3 sentences. Turns out that wasn’t a crazy guess.

Alone in a room in his home in Bonn, Germany, Friedhelm Hillebrand sat at his typewriter, tapping out random sentences and questions on a sheet of paper.

As he went along, Hillebrand counted the number of letters, numbers, punctuation marks and spaces on the page. Each blurb ran on for a line or two and nearly always clocked in under 160 characters.

That became Hillebrand’s magic number — and set the standard for one of today’s most popular forms of digital communication: text messaging.

“This is perfectly sufficient,” he recalled thinking during that epiphany of 1985, when he was 45 years old. “Perfectly sufficient.”

Hillebrand picked a number that would not stifle conversation. By reducing the limit makes 3 comfortable lines of text become a battle of compromise. Sure, you might say, do 2 tweets. But you usually want each tweet to be its own thought. Since each tweet should be its own package, you actually WASTE words trying to make something two tweets when it would be much better suited for one. Twitter does not support brevity, it encourages awkward waste and it’s hard not to notice this when you start getting into in-depth @ replies (which are usually far more sloppy than what most people post in their main stream). It’s hard to argue that 140 has any magical properties 160, 200 or 256 characters don’t have and by following Hillebrand’s reasoning, it’s easy to see why 140 characters can be so oppressive to those of us who try to have conversations on twitter. 140 characters is a bad limit that exists only due to former technological limitations. We’re past that now and it’s time to move on. It’s not going to become a blogging service. It’ll just become easier to say certain things we occasional want to say.

The limit might never change and if a better competitor never comes, I’ll just have to deal with it. But when I read people defend the 140 character limit, my head spins.

A Short Primer on Rifles and some Gun Law

Before I say anything else, let me say this: Don’t run away. I’m not going to be preachy and I’m going to try not to argue. I’m here to teach you about guns. You can do whatever you want with the information I give you.

The Sandy Hook shooting has brought the issue of Gun Control back to the table. Now I’ll be honest. I grew up with guns. I shoot guns. I’m comfortable with guns and I’m very interested in them. There is an AK-47 in my home — not because of any crazed paranoia or ideas of self defense, but for hobbyist purposes. That said, I’m rather neutral on gun control. When people say “Effective gun control”, they never say what that would be — seemingly because no one knows. There is a huge problem though. People suggesting solutions know absolutely nothing about guns. There are many places that talk about this, but they tend to go around conservative circles, where people already agree with them. Being one of the random “Pro Gun Liberals” out there, I’m going to try to educate the few of you who read this blog a bit.

As a note, I DO NOT CARE WHAT YOU DO WITH THIS INFORMATION. If you use it to decide ‘all guns should be banned’ or something, that’s fine with me. I will disagree with you, but I want our disagreement to be based on fact. I’d rather a law get passed that I disagree but that might be effective than a law pass that is merely inconvenient and symbolic. I’m not against gun control: I’m against BAD gun control laws. So I’ll try and keep this close to factual as I can.

Assault Weapons are a big buzzword right now. Because who would need a weapon that exists purely for ASSAULTING people? People almost always go “Well, I’m sure no one sane would disagree with an ASSAULT WEAPON BAN!” but they don’t even know what an assault weapon actually is.

Lets start with a little rifle history. The oldest ‘modern’ type of rifle we still see is the ‘bolt action’ rifle (lets use the Mosin Nagant as a visual example. These are the type of rifles most people are familiar with. They fire slowly — one bullet at a time, each shot requiring you to manually operate the bolt. Most people would associate these with hunting rifles, but they were the class of rifles used in WW1 and most of 2, while also still being used for many sniper rifles. These fire rifle cartridges, the biggest sized bullet most people ever deal with. The exact caliber varies, but that’s not important.

Next you have semi automatic rifles. We’ll used the M1 Garand for the example. These can fire roughly as fast as you can pull the trigger. Some started having detachable box magazines. They shoot the same class of round as a bolt action rifle and many hunting rifles and sniper rifles fit into this class of weapon.

Then for comparison sake, you have a sub-machinegun or ‘machine pistol’. These small guns, like the MP5 fire fully automatic — they fire as long as you hold the trigger down (unlike one pull per bullet, like a Semi-automatic rifle), but due to their size and recoil, they fire pistol ammunition which is SIGNIFICANTLY smaller than rifle cartridges.

So now we get to Assault rifles. At this point you might guess that an Assault Rifle is a fancy looking rifle that fires automatically, but that’s not quite true. They don’t fire full rifle rounds. They fire so called ‘intermediate’ rounds, like the 5.56×45 mm NATO, shown here to scale with other rounds. So why would a weapon designed to kill use a SMALLER round? Simply put, the recoil. To sustain controllable automatic fire, rounds with less kick were needed. Assault rifles are DESIGNED around the power of automatic and burst fire (sometimes JUST burst fire in some modern military weapons). Removing that functionality and retaining all the compromises made to make that functionality manageable leads to a weapon that is actually less useful than a lot of other civilian weapons.

You see, lethality is NOT the most important aspect of an assault rifle. Ease of operation, accuracy, reliability and many other factors take priority. For example, longer barrels can make a round more powerful (due to increased acceleration time) but the burden of a longer barrel is not worth the tradeoff and military rifles have over time strived to reduce their length as much as possible.

Now, no one should still be allowed buy automatic weapons, right? And you can’t. Fully automatic weapons have been banned for a long time and account for absurdly few crimes. Generally they are only permitted to individuals with very special licenses. This means, in effect, that every scary looking assault weapon in civilian hands, is a semi-automatic rifle (like the garand) that fires a WEAKER cartridge. The only difference is that the Assault Rifles tend to have mounting rails and other visual flairs, atop larger magazine capacities (which we will get too later). So what did that Federal Assault Weapon ban actually get rid of? Let’s quote some law.

Semi-automatic rifles able to accept detachable magazines and two or more of the following:
Folding or telescoping stock
Pistol grip
Bayonet mount
Flash suppressor, or threaded barrel designed to accommodate one
Grenade launcher (more precisely, a muzzle device that enables launching or firing rifle grenades, though this applies only to muzzle mounted grenade launchers and not those mounted externally).

Flash Suppressors and grenades are tightly controlled not available even IF the weapon can receive them. A bayonet mount is not a practical concern. Pistol grips are a matter of preference for comforts sake. The law banned them because they were afraid of criminals wielding guns akimbo, which would.. be very silly and impractical. The folding stock could be argued to make sneaking a weapon easier, but there is the kicker. You can get away with ONE of these things. Guns with folding stocks were not banned, only if they were paired with another superficial features. In practice, this law merely banned historic weapons and cool looking guns, much in the way one might hilariously ban cars with spoilers to reduce speeding. The law had another provision, and perhaps the most defensible one: A 10 round per magazine limit. Perhaps even too high for its purpose, but the only thing on that list that has maybe EVER saved a life. This law pissed off gun owners because it achieved so little in terms of saving lives, while preventing people from collecting neat guns. People don’t want an AK-47 because it’s the best thing to hunt, kill or defend your self with, they want it because it’s interesting. Many guns that would not be categorized as assault weapons. have arguably better killing power. People get scared about weapons like an AR-15, while something like the Garand is actually far deadlier — it’s simply much more unassuming. These are not inherently the best weapons for mass murder. Remember, military weapons do NOT put lethality as their highst concern — they have to be light to carry, survive brutal conditions, be reliable, easy to service, cheap to produce and be relatively accurate.

If one wants to ban ‘assault rifles’ one would have to ban all semi automatic rifles. The only issue with this is handguns are also all pretty much universally semi automatic. Now, banning handguns (as much as I enjoy shooting them) is a reasonable position. The majority of gun crimes come from handguns. Banning handguns would save many many more lives than banning semi-automatic rifles. A handgun with many magazines could easily be as lethal an assault rifle in an in door environment. Then you have shotguns, which have extreme deadliness, but very legitimate hunting uses.

Again, I’m not trying to change anyones minds. I’ve merely seen too many people with huge misunderstandings about guns in the US. I imagine most people will probably want even STRICTER gun control after reading this and I’m okay with that. I just want them to be informed. This is just a very basic primer that might seem obvious, but many people I’ve talked too even thought you could purchase fully automatic weapons. So all I ask if that you have informed, awesome opinions as this is an important issue. If anyone has any questions, hit me up.

Anyways, here’s a little short guide to the above.

  • Assault Rifles sold to civilians are not meaningfully different from the vast majority of semiautomatic hunting rifles.
  • Assault Rifles are NOT deadlier. They shoot weaker rounds and shorter barrels than hunting rifles so they can be controllable with automatic fire. Civilian assault weapons DO NOT have automatic firing capabilities.
  • Military features of Assault rifles, for the purposes of domestic gun violence, are mostly superficial.
  • Even if they aren’t superficial, most proposed laws don’t BAN these features, they limit how many you can have.
  • Large capacity magazines can be used with ‘normal’ hunting rifles. That said, they’re probably the most meaningful thing you could restrict.
  • Rifles account for about 2% of gun crime. Handguns account for the majority of gun crime

Dark Souls 2, Popularity and Edge Magazine’s Big Mouth

Dark Souls 2 is announced and I’m obviously excited. I have the same concerns as everyone else. I’m a fan of Miyazaki, Shibuya’s comments about preferring “direct” over “subtle” concern me, but ultimately I’m positive. It takes a company and a complete culture to make a game like Dark Souls and I don’t think Shibuya, a former Monster Hunter guy, can ruin it. His strengths will be shared with the project. I’ve even heard that Miyazaki has said in a Japanese interview that he wouldn’t even want to direct another Souls game — not because he doesn’t want to do one, but because he wants to be freed of the ‘director’ responsibilities so he can get more down and dirty with design. The role of Supervisor is a vague one, so what he’ll actually be doing is anyone’s guess. Hopefully more rather than less.

Still, there was a line in the Edge Magazine teaser that bothered me. Some people even attributed this to From Soft due to shoddy writing on Edge Magazine’s part.

We sympathise if that sort of statement concerns you, but at the same time, we can surely agree that we would all like to see Dark Souls attain as great a presence as The Elder Scrolls. How it gets there is a worthy matter for debate, but it’s certainly a noble task.

No, we can’t all agree on this. Perhaps in a theoretical world where the Souls games could get to Elderscrolls level without compromise, sure, but we do not live in that world. The compromises needed to make a Souls game as popular as an Elderscrolls game would kill the essence of what makes it a Souls game. And on a financial side, if it tried to compete with that audience, could it even win, or would it instead kill the series? The strength of niches is the fanatic level of devotion fans have. You might not be able to support the most massive projects off a niche, but they can be safe and stable once you have a fanbase. Dark Souls proved From has access to quite a sizable niche and it makes sense to grow it more. Adding accessibility, even if it negatively effects me, is probably for the best as long as it done cautiously and tastefully. I don’t think people should have to look up what “poise” does or have to read that resistance is a dumb stat. I even think having a more direct, top layer narrative would be fine, as long as the subtle layers are just as deep. It could even be a tool to make players dig deeper. It’s easy to play Dark Souls and think there is no plot or lore to be found and that’s a shame. So you can make a friendlier and more accessible game and hopefully From will do it as tastefully as I hope they do it. I hope Dark Souls gets as popular as it can, without horribly compromising its self. But that basically assures it will never be as popular as something like Skyrim. Even if it could, that isn’t a ‘noble goal’. The “noble goal” would be not to compromise — to make one’s art with passion. To do what one things is best for the ‘game’ rather than maximizing profits. We can’t expect a company to do that, but putting forth the idea that cashing in a Brand Name to try to get Skyrim-Dollars is a ‘noble goal’ is absurd. For art, popularity and money is not a ‘noble goal’, it is a necessity and the means to an end.

Again, these are Edge’s words, not From’s. Regardless, they still make me cringe, even if I’m still expecting the best out of From Software.