A place for physics, video games, philosophy, and beer.

06 December 2010

Today's Podcasts

Listening to:

Been listening to the Jay & Silent Bob Get Old podcast on the SModcast network. Real good stuff that explores the natures of drug addiction unabashedly. I find it amazing just how easy it is to start drugs, yet how so very hard it is to come off them. I don't know if all of the episodes are about drug use, but I am up to the fifth episode and that is what they have been about so far. Oh, and before you get it in your mind that these are real depression, Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes explore the subject through comedy, so everything really balances out.

Take a listen: http://smodcast.com/getold/

22 November 2010

Need to Read: Gravity's Rainbow

Just found this in the library.

 Summary: Novel by Thomas Pynchon, published in 1973. The sprawling narrative comprises numerous threads having to do either directly or tangentially with the secret development and deployment of a rocket by the Nazis near the end of World War II. Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop is an American working for Allied Intelligence in London. Agents of the Firm, a clandestine military organization, are investigating an apparent connection between Slothrop's erections and the targeting of incoming V-2 rockets. As a child, Slothrop was the subject of experiments conducted by a Harvard professor who is now a Nazi rocket scientist. Slothrop's quest for the truth behind these implications leads him on a nightmarish journey of either historic discovery or profound paranoia, depending on his own and the reader's interpretation. The novel won the National Book Award for fiction in 1974.

18 November 2010

How to Solidify Liquid Nitrogen

Below is a lab report I wrote up on how to solidify nitrogen. Very easy process that demonstrates a lot of thermodynamics.

Solidifying Nitrogen Lab

14 November 2010

Lab Report: Damped Harmonic Oscillator

Below is attached a lab report I recently submitted for my Classical Mechanics lab detailing how fluids affect the motion of oscillators. A spring-mass system was subjected to air, water, and a water-shampoo mixture, to see if the oscillations were affected, and if so, to find the damping ratio.

Damped Oscillator Lab Report

11 November 2010

L.A Noire Trailer Impresses

Not only does this game have the best facial animations I have seen in any game, it also looks like it could have a great, fleshed-out story. I have a lot of respect for games with a great story (Mass Effect) and yearn for more games to be as great.

One other thing I like about this is Team Bondi (the developers) has really get this game under wraps well and not much has been heard of gameplay-wise since it was announced. LA Noire is set to release in the spring, so they have a lot of time to ramp up the hype, but I hate hearing about a game every day two years before it is set to release.

07 November 2010

Impressions: Alan Wake

Almost... Scary...

On Monday, I started a playthrough of Alan Wake which I live tweeted for about an hour until I was bored out of my mind with the game and had to stop. Why was I bored? This game starts off pretty slow.For the most part, the game is an interactive cutscene for the first half an hour. Since there is not much to explore this is boring, although the environments are nice to look at. I imagine some of this exploring is a by-product of the game once being an open-world game [1], but since that fell through, we are left with some driving sequences where you can only drive from point A to point B.

Story-wise, the game starts with Alan Wake and his wife on a trip to Bright Falls to try and solve Alan's writers' block. They travel through town to a diner where they pick up the keys for the cabin they are staying in from a mysterious lady, the first time it is obvious the town is a little spooky. From there, Al and Alice, his wife, head to the cabin. While at the cabin, Alan finds out his wife wants to enroll him in a program for artists who are having a tough time. Alan finds Alice's suggestion indicative of her believing he is somewhat psychotic, so they fight, at which point her storms out of the cabin. Alice, who has a deathly fear of darkness is soon heard screaming as the lights go out in the cabin and Alan rushes in to find out the problem. From this point on, the story takes a sharp supernatural turn and also picks up a little.

Overall, the environments are nice to look at, but for about three of the six chapters in the game they are almost all identical. Some variety is added towards the end of the game and there are some moments that are actually quite memorable. For the most part, the game is not scary, though there are freaky moments. I am having some fun with this game but I cannot wait to get back to Mass Effect 2, to be honest.

[1] Greg Kasavin. Alan Wake E3 2005 Impressions. Gamespot. http://www.gamespot.com/pc/action/alanwake/news.html?sid=6125494&mode=previews

01 November 2010

The world John Marston grew up in, the world in which he killed, drank, and ruled, and world he lived in, is slowly dying. It is 1911, and the Old Wild West which was the subject of so many tales and legends is succumbing to the East, the land of the civilized. Federal agents are ramping up their quest to rid the West of all the undesirables who are digging in in towns and canyons throughout New Austin and Mexico. However, 'the Feds' are not looking to kill the criminals of the West themselves, they just want to take the credit for the dirty work John Marston is hired by them to do. Not so much as hired, though, but extorted.

The West is dying.

You see, Marston tried to go the way of the lawful. He left the act, bought a farm, married, had a kid, and was on the way to live a normal hard-working life when his family is kidnapped and he is told to kill Bill Williamson or his family will be killed. It seems as if you have no choice, but it is a Rockstar game so there is much to do besides worry about your families well-being.

Now comes the choice: are you going to stick with the main storyline, or will you explore the world, meeting strangers, chasing bounties, or admiring the landscape?

Following the story strictly will lead the player through a very cinematic, sometimes emotional experience. Scattered throughout the world are various characters Marston meets to try and learn about the whereabouts of Williamson. Usually you will have to do some missions for each character before they help you. This is the major drawback of the story, in follows a formula, nary ever straying from it. So you always know what is coming up: doing some missions for a character and then being rewarded with a continuance of the story. For the most part it is not that bad, but once Marston enters Mexico, he meets two different characters which will lead to some of the most redundant, formulaic quests of the game, to the point I would play Texas Hold 'Em and make money instead of doing quests.

Alas, Mexico brings with it one of the best aspects of the game: the moral ambiguity. The two above-mentioned Mexican characters are on diametrically opposed sides of a battle for power. You take missions from both of them, and you never really know which side is the good side, or whether there is any good side. There are some very good philosophical undertones here. However, nothing really comes of this moral conflict, because it will end the same no matter what side you think is right. This is not Mass Effect, but the game could have been so much better if it explored the consequences of your choices by actually giving you choices to make instead of forcing Marston into all the situations with a predefined outcome. Mexico shows us a glimmer of what Rockstar's writers are capable of, but it seems that they are held back by the ambition of Rockstar (never thought I would say that!).

Of course there is shooting

Similar repetition problems show up in the side quests of RDR. At the beginning of the game when Marston is travelling from one town to another (the towns are quite far apart), he may encounter a horse being stolen from someone or a horse-drawn wagon being robbed. You have the choice to help the innocents, usually demarcated by a blue dot on your mini-map, or you can kill the innocents and help the bad guys, or, hell, you can give everyone. Whichever action you choose will give you fame points, making you more famous and will also give you hero points, or subtract them, making you a good guy or bad guy. As far as I know, none of the points matter for much except that some townspeople will say your name in town once in a while. I maxed out my hero points on the good side and maxed out the fame bar, and neither helped me much for anything as far as I know.

Halfway though the game, though, the random world events will start to repeat and you will become bored with them. According to the stats menu there are about 30 unique world events, but I have encountered these events about 200 times. I have only seen the coolest one, a carriage being robbed, twice, but have seen a horse being stolen about 10 times.

The side quests have their jewel in the Stranger quests. Some of these rival story missions in scope and writing and I have never been bored with these. They show up on the map as a question mark where you talk to a person and receive some actions to do to complete the quest. I imagine these can be ignored with no real discontinuity to the story, but I have completed all of them so far and have got some good laughs from them and been utterly surprised by others. Almost all of these events take you around the world exploring the landscape. And boy is the landscape a technical wonder.

Red Dead Redemption puts forth a masterfully crafted landscape. From the barren deserts and canyons, to the mountains and forests. Towns are few and far between with a sparse populace. Many people may not like this, used to the big cities of GTA4, but it really makes the setting believable because it is what I thought the West was like. It is barren, but willed with flora and fauna. There are animals everywhere to shoot and plants to pick and sell. Standing on top of a canyon and looking below you as the sun rises above the mountains is absolutely beautiful quite possibly rivaling the real thing. The landscape adds to the immersive quality of the game, making the computerized West real and believable. Add in Natural Motions Euphoria engine, and we are presented with a beautifully crafted landscape with the quirky physics of real life.

The whole game is like this. Beautiful.

Red Dead Redemption bestows upon the gamer a landscape second to none, topped with a cinematic story hampered by repetition and lengthen by cheap tricks. There really is something here to experience, especially if you always wanted to follow in the footsteps of Wyatt Earp, or a brutal outlaw with no remorse. Too bad Rockstar wasn't just a little but more ambitious with the story, diversifying this mission here and cutting out that there.

Rating: 8/10