Wednesday 18 September 2013

Boxes and drives on the interbutts

I had a Dropbox account quite a while ago, and for whatever reason that it was at the time I never really got into it the way that I have recently. I couldn't tell you what it was that failed to grab me the first time around, but I eventually forgot which e-mail address was attached to the account and abandoned the whole endeavour. I'm back now, and I get it this time. It makes a lot of sense to be signed up.

If your electronic things number to many, the convenience provided by any kind of cloud storage is invaluable. Pads, phones and tablets seem to have a better time with Dropbox though. It runs deep. It's integrated up the wazoo. It feels like every second app I use on a regular basis is ready to give whatever it's up to to the rest of all of the things that I have. This is more than can be said for Google Drive and SkyDrive, which both seem to be totally content with their own extensive self integration.

I also like my Google Drive. I pretty much live there. All of my work, uni and writing files are there. Actually, pretty much everything except for media and code. I generally don't keep media in the cloud and I use bitbucket for code. For everything else, Google Drive more than meets my needs.

I've given up on SkyDrive. That is my official stance for the time being. I was kind of into it for a moment, but its convenience was based entirely on some strait arse situational specificity whose boundaries became frustratingly apparent. I've had a lot of issues with SkyDrive that revolve around browser support and plugins. I'm not sure if this has been resolved, and to be honest I'm past the point where I actually care anymore. I don't feel like I can rely on it, which defeats the purpose of such a service. If you live your entire life inside the Windows box, especially the Windows 8 box, SkyDrive might be a kind of okay option for you, but I'd probably still sign up to one of the other major offerings instead.

I run Google Drive and Dropbox in tandem, along with a couple of other specialist services. I'm very happy with this arrangement, and it works very well for me. I'm not sure I would be truly content in my cloud storage without any of them. That said, I was completely content with SkyDrive and Google Drive at one stage, and it is only now that I can see what I was missing out on. Sign up to all of the things, and figure out what works for you.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Cooking with Steam

There are a couple of things that re important to me. Actually, 'a couple' implies that there are actually a couple of things. There are more. There are lots of things that are important to me that I am fairly certain that most people don't actually care about. The two (of the) really big ones are education, specifically educational gaming, and digital rights management.

I've got a hard on for Steam at the best of times, and that is something I say proudly. When Gabe Newell speaks, I take a knee and brace myself for the knowledge. Apart from his recent comment on the future of gaming on Linux, there have been two other recentish announcements from the saunaed halls.

Steam has announced 'Family Sharing', which is a thing that makes an awesome amount of sense, and is distinctly different from putting your game library on every machine you come across. What it lets you do is authorise other accounts to use your library when you aren't using it. I've had a little dream about something like this for the very simple purpose of having a second 'living room account'. The living room account would open straight into Big Picture Mode (Steam Interface designed for use with TVs) and it would only have full controller support games installed on it. Everyone who lives in a house can then list the 'living room' account as their family. It essentially allows you to have a communal console for when that's whats going to happen that night.

By far the most exciting something that Steam is doing though is Steam for Schools, and its 'Teaching with Portals'. There is also a product available through the service called Universe Sandbox, which I haven't had a good look at yet, but I am super excited about. I can't actually have a look at it on my own, because I am not a teacher at a school. I know a couple of teachers, and I plan on co-opting them into assisting me in my endeavours.

EDIT: Universe Sandbox is available on the regular flavour of Steam. Even though I was referring to not have access to Steam for Schools, I assumed that there was a package deal thing going on. One can obtain Universe Sandbox through the Steam store for $9.99USD. 

Friday 13 September 2013

The Time Lord's Time Sheet

It has occurred to me recently that for a lot of people in my life, I am "The guy that you ask" when it comes to Doctor Who. I'm not at all unhappy about this. It is my favourite show, and I honestly remember a time when no one I knew wanted to talk about it at all, and I was completely convinced that I was the only person I'd ever met who actually watched it. I was a small child at the time, and those years are far behind me now. With the recent increase in references to the lore and history of the show within the show, the job of offering explanation has fallen to me. Once again, not at all unhappy about it. Great show. If you don't, you should. Really.

I might have said this here before. I'm not checking. People ask me on a semi-regular basis, and seeing as they're not prepared to read through old posts, neither am I. I don't thin I did. I actually think there might have been a reason that I didn't mention this earlier, but seeing as the details have been in the news over the past coupe of months I figure that I'm not really delivering any spoilers. If you think that that might be an issue  for you, don't keep reading.

The crux of the matter is that time lords get twelve regenerations, which gives them thirteen lives. I know this isn't really a spoiler, as it comes up from time to time, but it's important for where I am going. I'm frequently surprised at how many who watch the show regularly aren't aware of this little tidbit. What this means is that there are allowed to be thirteen Doctors before they have to introduce plot elements allowing him to have more regenerations. I bring this up mostly because I can count. There were seven Doctors over the original, '63 to '89, run of the show. Then the Eighth appeared in the television movie in '86. Finally, there have been three incarnations since the shows revival in '05, with a fourth taking on the role at the end of the year. This is twelve. 7 + 1 + 4 = 12.

However, at the end of the most recent season finale, it was revealed that there was a previously undepicted incarnation of the Doctor, who would bump all following incarnations along by one. Meaning that Matt Smith is actually playing the Time Lord's twelfth incarnation, and more importantly Peter Capaldi will be playing the thirteenth.

I am fully aware that the other Doctors don't let John Hurt's incarnation use the name, but I think if time lords could just duck on down to deed poll in order to get a few extra goes at bat, the Master and the Doctor would've had a very different relationship. A couple of folks have suggested that he might be the Valeyard, who was meant to be a kind of anti-Doctor that was the purest distilled essence of The Doctor's cranky-pants side who manifested between the twelfth and last incarnations. I know that the Valeyard got a lot more face-time in the spin-off material, but in the show we never really got a completely satisfying explanation of how all of that actually came about, and whether or not it was possible between other incarnations. I'm fairly certain that John Hurt will be playing the actual Ninth Doctor, and that he was the one that took on the brunt of The Last Great Time War.

The short of all of this is that the new Doctor might actually be the last natural incarnation. What this actually means for the show, the plot, the Doctor's opinion of the Master, and whatever else you can think of is anyone's guess, but it is a good time to be a Doctor Who fan.

Thursday 12 September 2013

The Rainbow Twilight Crisis

When I first started reading Green Lantern comics I failed to register the gravity and importance of some of the messages that could be taken away from it, and it wasn't until later that these things began to really take root in the way that I processed the world.

For me, Green Lantern is about the importance of willpower and imagination in overcoming fear and uncertainty, but after Emerald Twilight (and the follow on Zero Hour: Crisis in Time), which chronicles the psychological collapse and subsequent world shattering destructive behaviour of Hal Jordan, it was also about responsibility and vulnerability. It was about owning the mistakes that you had made, and it contained a cautionary tale about the potential for darkness to find its way into all of us. In this, is the reason that I consider Emerald Twilight to be one of the most important stories about the human condition that has ever been written, in any format. It is about the vulnerabilities that we all share. It is about our own capacity as a destructive force  in states of righteousness and grief. As justified as we may feel at the time, and even later, in the end we have to take our dues, and accept responsibility.

Emerald Twilight was divisive. People were upset. I was upset. For Green Lantern fans the fall of Hal Jordan was some deeply serious shit. It wasn't quite the death of Optimus Prime, but it was heavy. 'The Man Without Fear' was crippled by grief. This kind of action inspired some truly vitriolic nonsense. People got nasty, and they stayed nasty. In some ways, this is the right reaction to the story. The feelings, not the behaviour. It was a story that was meant to upset people, and it had come off the back of The Death of Superman, which had been intended to do the same. The difference of course being that Superman didn't completely fall from grace, and he came back in the end. Hal Jordan betrayed everything that he had represented, and his actions fixed the entire multiverse on a path of destruction.

In the end though, the weight of this story was completely undermined by Geoff Johns, when he rubbed out the frustrations of every Hal Jordan fanboy who'd been nursing a cranky semi for the past decade by completely and officially absolving the hero of all responsibility for what went down in Emerald Twilight and Zero Hour: Crisis in Time. He accomplished this mass happy ending with the old "It's cool guys, he was possessed" chestnut. Responsibility for his actions <= 0. Early nineties status quo restored. I have no doubt that Geoff Johns patted himself on the back as he watched the fanboys go nap time in their hazed state of post masturbational euphoria.

This was kind of weird for me, not because of the mass gratification and smug nonsense that suddenly appeared on DC forums, but because I had always been a huge Hal Jordan fan, and while I was devastated by what happened in Emerald Twilight, I have always thought of it, and the surrounding story arc, as one of the best stories ever written (as stated earlier). I was glad to see him wielding his power ring and spouting the oath like the old days, but the way it was handled struck me as an immensely stupid and lazy way to get Hal Jordan fans to stop cranking and to start buying comics again. It's shitty story telling. Prior to Geoff Johns' Green Lantern: Rebirth, the Green Lantern Corps had an interesting conundrum on their hands, in that between Sinestro and Jordan their two greatest enemies had both also previously been considered the two greatest Lanterns to ever take the oath. Afterwards they had The Great Rainbow Showdown. They went from exploring the human condition through the New Myths, to "Hey, colours! That could be a thing."

The full introduction of the emotional spectrum, their colour-coded adventures, and the Power Ranger Mood-ring Lantern Club that resulted isn't a bad storyline. It's actually pretty good, but there are times when it feels like the concepts might have come out of conversations with three year olds, and some of it stands as the least imaginative stuff to come out of DC in the history of the brand. Emerald Twilight is the far better story, and Geoff Johns reduced it (not in the cooking way where it gets stronger and richer, but he made it less than it was) in order to sneak Hal Jordan in under the line and back into the green before he started his new storyline.

The question that rolls around in my head is: How did the The Flashpoint Guy not reach further on this? He clearly wanted to bring Hal Jordan back, and he clearly wanted to introduce the easily distinguishable mood teams, but I don't understand why the complex emotional journey of 'The Man Without Fear' wasn't more closely tied into the emergence of the other emotional spectrum Lantern Corps. Hopefully, in ten years time a new Johns will come along and retcon his shit.

The other problem, which is more to do with the role that stories play in our lives, is that shifting blame in this manner is the kind of behaviour that is often indulged in reality. Where we live. We excuse our shit, instead of owning it. Granted, it's on a much smaller scale, but we justify our mistakes and the damage they do. It's always nicer when it turns out we can blame something else, but it doesn't always work out like that. Hal Jordan had become iconic as the representative of guilt and grief. His role in the DC cannon was one of the most abject tragedy, and he was robbed of that.

Monday 9 September 2013

When The Flash watches cartoons, it looks like comics

It's been a little while since I've let Panda weigh in here, but he wants him some words and woe is me who denies him. We (Panda and I) were recently put on to a young blog (some four posts at the time of writing) about comic books that alternates between info-dump review pieces, that are incredibly readable and come with notes on getting into superhero comics, and articles about comics that are also very readable. It is called Sequential Art Criticism. I like his mix of info-dump comic reviews and longer easy read articles.

I don't have the time anymore for comics that I wish I had, but I still like to read about them. One might suggest that this conundrum may in fact be solved by the hand-over-fist approach to superhero films that has been adopted by Hollywood over the past few years, and while I enjoy seeing some of my favourites in big sparkly colours, but it's a different kind of story telling. Even once you excuse the pace, art, 'realism' and duration, it is still a very different kind of story telling. Comics can be far more tragic, and bizarre.

There is a thing that is done with comic book characters when they get made over for the movies, and it is a kind of trend whoring. They're remolded into the style du jour to serve a different purpose. The most recent Batman movie trilogy does this in spades, but Bane is probably the easiest to explain in a paragraph. See, he plays this very specific role in the Batman mythology, and the role he plays is part of a grander psychological journey for Bruce Wayne. Bane's place and the moral he brings is a catalyst for the hammering in of an inescapable truth for Bruce Wayne. His face is synonymous with the abandonment of all hope that Wayne could ever have a life beyond the cowl, and that he will escape the cowl alive. The act of breaking Batman's back was a single action, but the greater arc and total fallout of that story was far more complicated. By the end Batman is made to feel fragile and he is made to feel trapped in his obligation as a defender of Gotham. This is what the hero's journey looks like years after the credits have rolled. Long after the Batman in the movie walks away from everything, The Batman in the comics is still there and knows he can be defeated, but he can never leave. The only way out for him is going to be violent and it is going to be terrifying. More importantly though, when this time comes, he will have failed and everything that he represented will be gone. His work will come undone, and it will all come to naught.

This kind of thing isn't unique either. The name Jason Todd carries with it a very specific message. He represents something in the Batman cannon. As does Gwen Stacy for Spider-man. Comics are a new mythology and as the players of yore played rolls, so do they. Sisyphus didn't have twelve labours. It isn't so much about remaining completely faithful, it's about the core of what the stories and their players represent.

The other thing that is worth tucking in your little cap is that the titles that get us (Panda and I) excited don't often get to the big screen. We got the Green Lantern movie, but we dropped words on that a while back already, and they weren't positive. Generally speaking, we do without in this regard. There is a light though, and it is the soft chromatic glow of animation. DC makes animated films, and not a couple of them. There are a couple of not quite all encompassing flavours here. The earlier ones all form part of the same consistent universe as "that Batman series from the nineties". The later ones go the other way, and have abandoned any idea of a single set continuity, and instead opted for telling stories, which is the way that these things should be handled. I've said so before. They've done a few of the obligatory origin stories, but it's the other things they covered that are where we really get our pants off. It's figurative. Panda doesn't do pants.

The Justice League do for DC Comics about what Marvel's The Avengers do on the Marvel payroll, in that they are The Big Club that nearly everyone has been a member at some stage or another. We used to read both, but we always preferred the League for their space stories and pan dimensional shenanigans. There is usually some reality bending weirdness to be had in Justice League stories. Not all the time, but there has been more than one occasion when all of the shit has hit all of the fans, of which there was a previously unknown amount and it turns out to be a lot, then the fans crash through the barriers between worlds, shit stained blades and all. It's wild stuff.

There are currently four animated Justice League movies with another on the way. What these movies do is make a concerted effort to present a different scale to the DC universe. They try to tell comic stories in a movie format, and there is some noise on both sides about the general level of success achieved as far as this endeavour is concerned. I'm impressed with what they're doing with the Justice League. It's a hard sell. They used to be the Super Friends. Where my hat gets tipped (less figurative, we go in for hats) is what they're doing down animation way with their big brands. Superman gets Doomsday, All-Star and Unbound, while Batman gets Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. The attitude here is brazen. These are their most precious toys, and these stories are made up of those very keywords that give Hollywood execs erectile dysfunction. They're playing for themselves to see if the audience is interested. And we should be. Apart from Year One, which is an origin story so quintessential that it is the proverbial cloth from which all others since have been cut, the rest don't play you the Superman (or Batman) drum, they assume that "you know what a Superman is and how they get down" and get on with telling you a story, a story that can only really be told with these characters.

There are some stories we would like to see come out of this house of thought in the future. I have my list, and Panda has his, and there is some overlap, but for the time being we're on board with who ever is driving the ship.

As a not entirely unrelated note (it's actually very related), the now cancelled Young Justice animated series is, hands down, the best superhero cartoon that has ever been broadcast. Ever.

Sunday 8 September 2013

Blackest Night

It is a sad day today. Standing on a podium of division, voicing proudly a stance of intolerance and ignorance, Tony Abbott won Australia over. Sadder than his victory is what his victory says about Australia. As a nation we are imbecilic. Our grasp of economics and the long term effects of social policy are in deficit. As a a people, as a whole, we are our own worst enemy.

I am in the minority on this opinion, which is something that has been counted. Time will make fools of the rest of you, and as Abbott shifts the blame you will swallow what he says. You will deny your fault in this. That's who we are as a nation.

To those who want to see change,  I ask that in moving forward you be analytical and logical, and learn as much as you can. Reason and honesty are our only recourse, because we cannot afford to be undermined. Be consistent, but not blindly so. Fact will be obscured, and we must seek it out. Be wary.

I've turned to the Lantern on this one.

In brightest day, in blackest night,
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power...
Green Lantern's Light!

Tuesday 3 September 2013

"The best co-op, 3rd-person, fantasy, puzzle-strategy-defense-shooter of 2012"

The quote is mine. I wrote that. I wrote it is a jab at the way 'genres' and 'categories' are listed on Steam. I like Steam, but their publisher assigned genres and categories are basically nonsense now. Some people seem to just tick every box on the back of "Yeah, it's got some of that".

As I have previously mentioned, I do understand the need to make these distinctions, but there are times when it gets a bit out of control. My rule of thumb: if your 'genre' reads like the response to "give a description in twenty-five words or less", then you need an editor. When it comes down to it, do you need all of those words? Are they all required to get players into what your pimping? Historically, I have played a lot of fighting games, and when a new fighter comes out I give it a look-see. The term 'fighter' is enough in that regard. I have a look and I read some reviews and I then start to think about the expanded terminology. Is it a technical fighter? Is it a team-based fighter? Is it a true 3D fighter, or is it 2.5D? While these terms are useful for fighter community discussions, I don't want to see the next King of Fighters referred to as a 2D, team-based, technical-franchise-fighter every time anyone talks about it. Apart from the fact the entire King of Fighters series can be described in this way (except the first where you would switch out 'franchise' for 'cross-over'), it isn't really a super useful genre, because it is a very small party.

As it happens the English language, out of habit more than anything else, will usually find a term for something when the party gets large enough. It is a linguistic blob, amorphously digesting anything it comes into contact with, press-ganging the required vocabularic DNA into sometimes bold and unexplored usage. When it's stretched it will even mutate new words from what ever it can find. It'll take a noun and make it an adjective, or a noun and verb it. Sometimes stick words together (compound words), and sometimes jam them together so hard that some of the letters pop out (portmanteau, which is itself a metalanguage term that is a loan word from French that originally referred to luggage, and was itself a portmanteau before we had a good word for it).

Video games are a relatively recent thing (when compared to art and literature), and we are filling out our glossary nicely. We have terms like metroidvania (portmanteau), tower defense, roguelike (compound word) and mmorpg (acronym) which my friends pronounce as 'more-pigger'. When the time comes that we absolutely need a term for games like Morrow Wind or Skyrim that aren't acctually part of the Elder Scrolls series, we will more than likely use a term like 'scrolls' (plural), and not first-person-hacktion-adventure-fantasy-RPGs. As a species, we're too lazy for that kind of tongue-twisting tomfoolery.

The title was in reference to Orcs Must Die! 2, which is hands-down the best co-op, 3rd-person, fantasy, puzzle-strategy-defense-shooter of 2012. No competition. It is also a fantastic game.