Science confirms it: men trainwreck Continuous Story

No, seriously.

Prof. Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire conducted an experiment on his blog wherein commenters contributed to a story, one sentence at a time. The catch was that men and women contributed to separate stories, although both stories began with the same opening line.

The results:

The men’s story quickly veers into borderline incoherence as contributors keep throwing stuff in with little regard to the narrative thus far. The women’s story stays cohesive longer before losing control and resorting to the despicable all-just-a-dream-or-is-it ending. (Whereas the men introduced all-just-a-dream in the middle and kept going anyway, ultimate ending in a self-referential charlie foxtrot.)

Prof. Wiseman’s findings are independent replication of earlier experiments by Kuliniewicz et al, Purdue University, where repeated attempts at forming such collaborative narratives were made weekly. In those experiments, the results almost invariably fell within the “borderline incoherence” category, and the experimental population was overwhelming (90%+) male.

[Alas, the findings of Kuliniewicz et al remained unpublished, due to failure to follow proper experimental protocol with human subjects: subjects were led to believe they were attending a meeting of an organization called the “Purdue Improv Club”, but were not made aware of the deception and the true nature of the experiment afterwards. Also, there was a failure to establish a proper control group.]

Clearly, this is Prof. Wiseman’s most significant work in psychology since his infamous color-changing card trick:

Comments Off

Music Applet 2.5.1 released

Hot on the heels of the previous version, Music Applet 2.5.1 has been released. This version is purely a bug-fix release and adds no new features. It does, however, fix a bug that could leave the applet in a hung state when the music player closes, and it fixes a bug in fetching album art from Rhythmbox.

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption

Everyone in the galaxy is an idiot. At least, that’s what I learned from playing Metroid Prime 3: Corruption.

Let’s say you’re the Galactic Federation. You hire a handful of bounty hunters to hand-deliver an antivirus to your computer systems after the Space Pirates have (choose one: compromised, owned, 0wn3d, pwn3d) your networks. Suddenly, said Space Pirates launch a surprise attack, and while aforementioned bounty hunters try to stop a very unpleasant-looking glowing space rock from smashing into your military base, they get blasted by the nigh-unkillable antagonist from the previous game with something that makes their bodies start producing phazon.

Phazon, by the way, is basically concentrated evil in mineral form. It’s extremely toxic and mutagenic, with the tendency to mutate anything or anyone who comes into contact with it into something very deadly and something eager to be deadly. Naturally, the Space Pirates love using the stuff in their genetic experiments.

In other words, suppose someone shot you in the face, and suddenly you started pooping weapons-grade uranium. Now suppose that weapons-grade uranium is also sentient. Well, being the GF, you’re now stuck with four bounty hunters with this condition. What do you do?

Naturally, instead of trying to cure them, you figure out a way to weaponize this internal phazon production in three of the bounty hunters and send them out to fight the Space Pirates. And when you mysteriously lose contact with them after a couple weeks, instead of suspecting that the evil sentient self-regenerating substance has done something, you know, bad to them, you go ahead and make the same “upgrade” to your last bounty hunter, and send her out to find out what happened. And kill Space Pirates.

For whatever reason, Samus apparently sees nothing wrong with any of this. If it were me, I’d be a little upset about them making changes to my armor while I was busy being unconscious with a life-threatening medical condition. Especially when it turns out that the fail-safes in the upgrade to prevent runaway phazon production, um, don’t exactly “work”.

In the GF’s defense, they do apologize when they find out what they did.

That’s the premise to Corruption in a nutshell. The same sort of 3D Metroid action you’d expect from the rest of the sub-series ensues as you travel between planets collecting power-ups and upgrades hidden in implausible areas in (mostly) abandoned environs in between shooting Space Pirates and the eponymous metroids. In that respect, it does things a bit better than its predecessors, in that the plot coupons needed to access the final area of the game are less blatantly arbitrary. In Corruption, they’re energy cells needed to systematically power sections of what’s left of the GFS Valhalla as you explore it, whereas in the previous two games they were “artifacts” or “keys” needed to pass an arbitrary barrier leading to the final boss. (Echoes was particularly bad in this respect, requiring a series of keys to be collected to reach every major boss.)

The Wiimote+Nunchuk control scheme works pretty well, with the decoupling of movement and aiming eliminating much of the need to lock on to enemies in order to hit anything. There’s a lot of waving the Wiimote around to activate knobs and levers and such to activate them, but by matching the motions Samus makes in-game, it avoids feeling like the “arbitrary waggle” controls that apparently plague many Wii games. Plus, swinging the Nunchuk back and forth to use the Grapple Beam works well, especially when using it to rip apart annoying flying enemies.

One problem with the controls, albeit a minor one, is that although all the dials-and-levers type stuff is done with the Wiimote in your right hand, Samus does the motions with her left hand, which breaks the verisimilitude a bit. Of course, her right hand is sort of occupied operating her arm cannon.

I’m less forgiving, however, of the attempt to force more traditional FPS elements into the game play. It comes up a bit in the Spire Pod sequence in SkyTown where you fight hordes of Space Pirates, but it becomes much more blatant in the last areas of the Pirate Homeworld. The combination of the X-Ray Visor and the Nova Beam acts like a sniper rifle, letting you headshot Space Pirates for one-hit kills. Soon after that’s introduced, you’re stuck with the task of escorting a squad of GF tactical demolitionists who have a surprising lack of combat ability. None of this feels very Metroidy, and it weakens the final areas of the game.

Speaking of which, I didn’t much care for how the entire way your health meter works is changed in the final area, especially not the ham-handed way it’s explained to you via a series of four or five dialog popups. I suppose it would’ve been worse if the permanent-hypermode you’re stuck with on Phaaze worked the same way hypermode does in the rest of the game, where letting the phazon meter fill up results in game over, but still, I can’t approve of changing such a core game play mechanic like that, especially once that guts even the limited options for weapons selection you had up until then.

And weapons selection is almost as limited as in the original NES version of Metroid: the new types of beams and missiles replace, rather than complement, the old ones. Worse, missiles as a whole aren’t all that useful once you have enough energy tanks in reserve to abuse hypermode, which is effective against pretty much everything you fight. I don’t think I ever ran close to running out of missiles even before my stockpile hit triple digits.

However, I must give credit for how the game has you deal with the shield protecting the Leviathan Seed on Elysia. On Bryyo, getting past it involved fighting your way to a pair of shield generators and calling in airstrikes from your spaceship. It initially seems like the same will happen on Elysia, until the Aurora unit in SkyTown suggests you just drop a giant bomb on the shield and blow it up. Of course, you then have to run around SkyTown assembling said giant bomb, but still.

Also appreciated is the ability to have all the locations of hidden items marked on your map near the end of the game, if you figure out how to do that. It beats traversing the game world again looking for those last couple items if you’re going for 100% completion. Though to my credit, I did manage to get 98% of them through careful observation and obsessive note-taking, using the endgame map only to find the last two missile expansions.

In practice, however, that’s really only for bragging rights (and unlocking slightly longer endings), since as I mentioned earlier, there’s little reason to use missiles except to get past certain obstacles. Ship missile expansions are even more useless, since aside from getting past a couple obstacles on Bryyo you never need to call in bombing runs again. Actually, it turns out that all the different buttons in the spaceship are just for decoration except for the one that lets you fly from one point to another. Not that I was looking for a dogfight sequence in a Metroid game, though, but if the ship only serves as transportation and a mobile save point, why bother with a cockpit screen at all?

Finally, getting back to my opening rant: the only reason Samus and the GF emerge victorious at the end of the game is that the Space Pirates are even dumber than the GF seems to be. The Space Pirates have hand scanners to activate their equipment. Space Pirate hands don’t look even remotely human, what with the three pointy fingers and all. So why do they have no problem accepting Samus’s hand, given that she is (a) human and (b) walking Space Pirate death. Samus is the last person Space Pirates would want using their stuff. It’s like if TSA made you use a hand scanner before boarding the plane, but the scanner was perfectly OK with bin Laden’s hand on it. Or a kitten.

And how exactly do hand scanners work when someone is wearing full body armor, anyway?

Death by Cliché

I probably should’ve posted about this a few weeks ago, since I’m sure a couple of you will enjoy this (especially those of you whose nickname is Tripod and/or who have heard of D&D): Death by Cliché, a free audiobook disguised as a podcast.

What’s it about? Let’s just say it includes the phrases “improvised silencer”, “flaming brassieres braziers brassieres”, “breakfast beer”, and “DOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM!”

In that order.


(Spoiler alert: breakfast beer is what you get when you add bacon to beer. And eat drink consume it for breakfast.)

Comments Off

Music Applet 2.5.0 released

Keeping my word, Music Applet 2.5.0 is now available. This release adds support for the long-awaited Amarok 2. It also fixed lots of bugs. In particular, the applet will no longer try to take over your entire panel if you play a song with a long title, and handling of metadata when playing Internet radio streams is vastly improved. There are additional bug fixes too; check the release notes for details.