"an ology for the new millenium"
Why, it's the vanity site and weblog of Eric Tilton! [*]

Bernie says hello. He'd like to know if you have any wet cat food for him.

Welcome to ology.org! This is the personal vanity site of Eric Tilton and Carrie Jones. It mainly exists so that we can laugh heartily at our clever e-mail addresses (like tele@ology.org). Ho ho ho!

Please wander around, and feel free to enjoy my fine Corinthian web log.

Wednesday, February 28, 2001

[Posted 2/28/2001 03:59:18 PM by tilt]
Lifted from Slashdot today: interplanetary Internets.

Tuesday, February 27, 2001

[Posted 2/27/2001 09:39:45 PM by tilt]
Two pictures. In the first, my new car:

In the second, my new car getting towed, because it started leaking fluid on my way home from getting my Texas driver's license. It's very distressing to see the "low coolant" light come on when you've only had your car for a week.

[Posted 2/27/2001 12:35:10 PM by tilt]
I tried a new beer last night, which I got solely for the name. Well, the name and the price:

Who could resist such a devilish temptation?

[Posted 2/27/2001 10:36:37 AM by tilt]
Go to your local Best Buy, or other obscenely overlarge national retailer that carries DVDs. Go to the DVD aisle, and then to the science fiction section. Look in the "B"s. You'll probably find something like this:

Now, no retailer in his or her right mind could possibly imagine that Battlefield Earth has any kind of market, let alone enough demand for it that this many copies would move. There can be only one explanation: this is a retail maneuver on the part of the Church of Scientology. Don't believe it? They've done it before (see "The Scientology Story," from the Los Angeles Times on Thursday, 28 June 1990, page A1:1) -- for years, they've dumped huge numbers of copies of Hubbard's books, including Dianetics and the god-awful Mission Earth dekalogy (trust me, I've read them) into the retail flow, only to have faithful members of the church snap them off the shelves in order to artificially inflate sales numbers. Of course, those same copies of the books are recycled back through the publishing arm of the church.

Given the number of copies of Battlefield Earth gathering dust, though, I can only make one of two conclusions: a) the faithful don't own DVD players, or b) even Scientologists agree that this was a shitty movie.

(In all fairness, I have not yet seen the movie version of Battlefield Earth. I did slog through the book ten years ago, and it was pretty hackneyed space opera. I will probably rent the DVD in the next year, if only for a sort of cultural archeological expedition, or in search of some ill-conceived sense of closure. I actually had moderate hopes that the movie would be decent, especially since the trailer showed off some cool looking special effects. But then again, so did the D&D trailer [although you had to see it on a laptop screen in order to miss how badly done the CGI effects were in the D&D trailer].)

Monday, February 26, 2001

[Posted 2/26/2001 11:14:31 AM by tilt]
I think this is the first time that I'll be blogging with express purpose of pointing you to another web page.

Check this out: a photograph of a fighter plane crossing the sound barrier and generating a sonic boom. The cloud formation generated by this is wicked cool.

Friday, February 23, 2001

[Posted 2/23/2001 11:49:36 AM by tilt]
Two quick notes:

  1. I also picked up <booming-announcer>Clive Barker's Undying</booming-announcer> (-dying -ying -ying -ing -ing) when I picked up Blade of Darkness (see the next entry for more on Blade). I haven't gotten as far in it, but it looks pretty cool so far. Kind of a horror Half-Life vibe. God I wish the Unreal engine worked well on GeForce cards.
  2. I have a strong urge to go get in my new car and just drive around. Because I'm a dork. But now I'm a new car dork.

[Posted 2/23/2001 10:34:39 AM by tilt]
Blade of Darkness is a very satisfying dungeon crawl. I picked it up a few days ago, largely because the demo has the most amazing water reflection effects that I've ever seen. I think the best way to describe the game is that it's a combination of Diablo II, Die by the Sword, and Soul Caliber. It's a third-person dungeon romp with an emphasis on edged-weapon melee combat, but it has a Soul-esque combo-style of sword control. It captures the same feeling as Sword, but it doesn't suffer from the insanely complex control scheme of that wonderful game (and yet still provides a substantial variety of move options to retain the strategic feel of swordplay that I like so much in Sword).

The Diablo II similarities are also pronounced. First, the character classes are strongly reminiscent of the non-magic using classes in D2, the Amazon and the Barbarian. In fact, playing the "Adventuress"/Amazon class in Blade strongly reminded me of playing my D2 amazon, with an emphasis on spear-based weapons (with that same crazy whirlwind attack) & the bow & arrow. However, unlike D2 (thankfully), this game emphasizes one-on-one (or one-on-two or three) combat, rather than one character facing overwhelming hordes of wussy enemies. It's not that I have anything against the lone swordsman fighting off the hordes -- I just don't think I'm that good with the virtual sword. Second, as you kill critters, you gain experience, and every often you character goes up a level. Going up a level has several effects: first, you get more hit points. Second, you get more stamina (every time you do a weapon move, you expend some stamina, so the more stamina you have, the more combos you can do in short order before becoming exhausted and vulnerable; you can also use heavier & tougher weapons with more stamina). Third, more weapon combos become available. Also, your base attack and defense rating increase when you level. Unlike D2, you don't have any choices in how your character develops when you level -- there aren't any skills to learn, or points to allocate.

The mechanics of save-games are a major, ongoing debate in the game design community. Players want the ability to save at any point, while designers want to limit the ability to save in order to highten the stakes for the player, and thereby highten the tension. The main argument against saving anywhere is that it deemphasizes loss -- a paranoid player will jab the quicksave button after every major encounter, and if he is surprised and killed, he only has to replay the last 30 seconds. This means he isn't going to freak out as much when that surprise attack occurs, and may not be inspired to the great heights of heroism that substantial loss may provoke (like, dying requiring you to restart the level, or worse yet, the entire game). This is a fine and noble sentiment, but it discounts the fact that I, as a player, hate to replay the same boring stretches of game over and over again to get past one stupid encounter. For that matter, not being able to save anywhere means that you have to get to certain point in the game before it will save your progress, meaning if you want to stop playing before you reach the point, you either have to leave your computer running the game (in paused mode), or you have to risk the long suffering glances of your loved ones as you yell out "just one more minute, dear, I have to finish polishing the death sword of foozle on the bones of my enemies so I can save!"

Various game designer solutions have been used to keep this sense of meaning and loss. As I alluded to above, pre-determined save points are one such solution. Other games have allowed you to save anywhere, but limited the number of times you could save. I believe Deathtrap Dungeon, a disappointing game that I had hoped would provide the experience of Blade, made you collect "save gems," which you could then expend to save the game. And Soldier of Fortune (which I also never played) limited the number of times you could save in a level as part of the difficulty options (and, god love 'em, they let you turn that feature off). I'm personally against these kinds of policy-based approaches, though -- I hate to think of my ability to save as a resource which may run out in a pinch, like ammo or something. Another approach which Baldur's Gate planned to use, but eventually dropped, was to incur an experience penalty for excessive reloading (to discourage people from replaying combat multiple times in order to get the most optimal outcome). I never heard why they dropped that feature, although I expect it was because players really dislike the game acting like a nanny.

Blade has a very nice solution to this game design problem. Every time you save, it keeps track of how many times you've saved. When you look at the list of save games, you can see that number. More importantly, after the number, there's a one word description of how cool you are, based on the number of saves you've done. If you've only saved once or twice per level, the description is "Awesome!". Three or four times a level -- "Heroic!". Five to eight times -- "Bold". More than that is "normal," and thankfully, I haven't dipped any further than that. I'm shooting for "bold" right now. What's effective about this system is that I can save anywhere I like -- but the game encourages me to save less often, so that I can feel cooler. Which turns out to be effective, because after saving a huge amount in the first level, I spent the second level trying to save as rarely as possible. Note to other game designers: this is a good approach. Learn from it. Steal it whole-heartedly.

(There's another argument for saving anywhere that isn't directly relevant to the argument above, but is, I think, even more compelling. Games, like every other complex software system, are going to contain bugs. Frequent saves, then, become checkpoints of your "work," ensuring that even if a catastrophic bug occurs, you won't lose too much of your invested time. I used to save dozens of different games, especially in RPGs, that entailed me exploring but not committing to particular paths and consequences. If I didn't like the forseen consequences of the path, I'd roll back to one of my primary saves and pretend it never happened. These days, I'll only use two save slots, max. Why? Because I can get a sense of risk by committing to game paths that may have bad consequences, so limiting my saves doesn't allow to me to chicken out later. But using two saves allows me to alternate between them, which protects me in the occassional bug which craps out during a save and corrupts my game.)

(Another side note: Deus Ex also kept track of the number of times you'd saved, but it didn't try to analyze how bad your ass was based on that, so I largely ignored it and saved as often as possible. Occassionally I'd look at the number (I think I ended the game with >700 saves) and feel like a weenie, but I didn't feel any great incentive to take greater risks.)

I do have to point out one substantial flaw in the game: in the course of normal exploration, there is no way to strafe to the left or right; you have to rotate and move forward. I hate this kind of control, but I'm learning to live with it. However, once you enter combat, you can "lock on" to an enemy, in which case your character will automatically turn to remain facing the enemy. In this situation, moving left or right does, in fact, strafe. The combat mode controls work very nicely.

Othe random points: each of the four main characters has a different storyline. The initial levels, at least, are different for the different characters, although it remains to be seen if they overlap levels later on. You won't be playing this game for the story, though. It's perfectly adequate as glue to the dungeon romp, and that's all it needs to be.

The level design is outstanding. The levels are visually diverse and beautiful. I've seen four different levels so far, and each one has had a substantially different character. Some are bright, epic, and airy, while others are dark, dank, and claustrophobic (it's in these levels that you'll gasp in astonishment at the high detail shadows that flicker effectively as you pass by flickering torches). Note that the demo is much darker than the actual game; they've fixed the color balance in the retail version.

In addition to the visual beauty of the levels, the layout and design are also well considered. Most of the levels I've seen have not merely been "rails". In a lot of games, including half-life, the levels resembled real architecture, but you were still clearly going down a really long hallway that happened to have a lot of bends in it. Here, the levels feel more open and organic. It's not that there's more than one way through them -- there's still a clear progression through the levels, usually enforced by locked doors. However, there are actual branching passageways, and progressing through a level is more like peeling an onion -- as you move forward, you can find and open doors that connect back to earlier parts of the level. It's nicely done, and heightens the sense of exploration.

Thursday, February 22, 2001

[Posted 2/22/2001 02:45:33 PM by tilt]
I am LIVING the AMERICAN DREAM. I bought my very first car yesterday. It's a Saturn SL2, so I am now Of The Cult. My main sop to luxury is the combination CD & Cassette player. I won't be using the cassette functionality to listen to actual TAPES, though -- that would be what we like to call "crazy talk." No, the tape player is for my audio-out to cassette adapter, which I plug into my Pocket PC. Then, I can listen to audio books that I buy from Audible.com in the car. Wheehoo!

Sunday, February 11, 2001

[Posted 2/11/2001 04:54:11 PM by tilt]
A month later, here are some pictures taken from the great millenial move.

This picture was taken the morning after we left the house. The previous day, we'd loaded up the U-Haul (the 26 foot U-Haul) full all of our worldly possessions, including our beds. So we drove out that same night to a motel just south of Pittsburgh (near the airport). When woke up the next morning, it was to snow gently falling. Thankfully, Pittsburgh has the appropriate infrastructure to prevent this from being a driving hazard, so we weren't especially delayed in leaving town.

You'll note date & timestamps on these photos (although they are very difficult to read, since I resized them all from 1280x1024 resolution). I turned this feature of my camera on, to see if it would help in later reconstructing this narrative. However, you'll note (if you can make it out) that the dates are all wrong; apparently my camera had reset the date & time setting in the previous month or so, probably when the batteries ran down. D'oh!

This was the first of many shots illegally taken from the driver's seat of a Saturn. You can see the U-Haul ahead of me, carrying Carrie and Robbins, and all of our wordly goods. You can also see that it is miserable and snowy.

One of a fairly small number of road adventures. In this shot, you can see an truck with an oversized load (that's a house, mind you) passing the U-Haul. Yikes.

The cats were not very excited by this driving adventure. Here you can see Bernie hiding out behind one of the three plants we also took with us, in the second hotel room (this would be somewhere in Tennessee).

This picture is from somewhere on the road in Tennessee (I think). Note how this is only one day later, but it's now blue and sunny. The general view didn't change that much through the drive, but the weather did. It felt like we drove from winter straight into spring.

A picture of the parking lot of the Residence Inn in Dallas (well, Richardson) that we stayed out. The sky looked really cool, but it didn't translate well in the picture.

We arrived, and in short order grabbed all of our crap out of the truck and tossed it into the apartment. We also got scammed by the movers, who told us that they were "overscheduled," and that they had to leave before they were done helping us. But they "felt bad" about making us pay for the minimum number of hours (which they didn't stay for) and took a smaller amount of cash "under the table" as long as we didn't "tell their boss." We were so tired and cranky by this point that we didn't realize how much we'd been taken for fools until the next day. Grrrr.

After arrival, we discovered we didn't bring any shower curtains with us. So I improvised. (This is not still up, in case you're wondering.)

Saturday, February 10, 2001

[Posted 2/10/2001 01:31:44 AM by tilt]
Thirteen Days is an excellent, excellent film. I highly recommend it.

[Posted 2/10/2001 01:30:22 AM by tilt]
I am, as always, a game playin' fool.

The only "new" game I'm playing is MW4. However, I have a bunch that I've borrowed, are replaying, or have just been playing slowly, including:

  • Baldur's Gate II
  • Starfleet Command II
  • Thief 2
  • Descent 3
  • Freespace 2

I also find myself interested in MW3, because of some of the descriptions I've read of it online. Specifically, damage is supposed to be rendered in a much more impressive way, and legs actually get blown off (a visual effect which is supposed to be in MW4, but which I frankly haven't seen yet). However, I don't think I'll follow through -- it's going to be challenge enough to play through MW4.

Let me just say (not for the first time) that the Thief series is one of the finest available, and I have high hopes for Thief 3, resurrected (but hopefully not like the zombies in Thief 1) from the dead by Ion Storm Austin afer the tragic bankruptcy of Looking Glass Studios. This game does the best job of giving you an interesting puzzle (read "mission"), a small but powerful set of tools, and the freedom to innovate in using those tools to achieve your objective. The game world is tight and well structured, but within that structure there is an incredible diversity and freedom in gameplay. Deus Ex manages to exceed Thief in terms of level design, but Thief still reigns supreme in the combination of tools. Ropes, things that clatter, lockpicks, shadows: all of these elements can be combined in a huge number of ways in order to achieve your objectives. The expert difficulty level usually requires you to not kill anyone, but some players can even take that a step farther, and complete levels without even knocking anyone out, or otherwise being seen. That's pretty darn impressive.

Sunday, February 04, 2001

[Posted 2/4/2001 11:07:33 PM by tilt]
I've been rereading the Honor Harrington books, by David Weber. These books are military space opera, concerning the heroic career of Honor Harrington, starship captain extraordinaire. The books are totally satisfying, largely because of the well done envisionings of space combat. Weber describes a plausible extrapolation of what war in space might actually be like, and it's engrossing to read.

The rest of the books fall somewhat more in the guilty pleasures camp. The moral dilemmas are typically black and white, with honorable characters that have the courage of their convictions, and the strength of ten because their hearts are pure. The dialogue is stilted, the political analysis is often simplistic, and the plots invariably follow the same formula which always concludes with an impossibly lopsided battle and a victory against all odds for our heroes. But it's OK, because the shameless emotional manipulation always brings a tear to my jaded eye. The books are fun, smart, and satisfying, and I wholeheartedly recommend them.

[Posted 2/4/2001 11:07:09 PM by tilt]
Tonight's other guilty pleasures were chicken nuggets with spicy barbeque sauce and the tail end of A Few Good Men. The BBQ "sause" was especially excellent, because it comes from Rudy's BBQ, the "worst" BBQ in Texas. It's about a five minute drive from our new Austin digs, and they have some pretty frickin' incredible barbeque. AFGM was as always entertaining, although Jack Nicholson's final ranting loses something when it's dubbed for television broadcast.

Saturday, February 03, 2001

[Posted 2/3/2001 10:30:36 PM by tilt]
I'm getting a very deep amount of satisfaction from Mechwarrior 4.

(You can skip all of the following historical meandering if you want to just want to know what I thought about MW4; I spend the next several paragraphs reminiscing about MW2, and why I've hated almost everything released since then.)

I've been a huge fan of giant robots since I was a wee lad. I couldn't get enough of Robotech and Transformers, and the robot toy collection I shared with my brothers was epic in scope. I'm not sure what exactly is was about it that appealed to me, although I'm certain it had plenty to do with the insecurities of a young boy who felt a need for some giant robot armor. And I'm sure it also had something to do with the very sleek, very cool mecha designs, and the bright and stylized visual violence and grace of anime.

Back in 1995, I got involved in writing a book on web sites. The book wasn't exactly a smashing success, but I did get a nice advance that I mostly spent on replacing my Mac Classic with a shiny new Pentium 90 (see my games page for more on this). One of the very first games I bought to play on this miracle of modern technology was... Mechwarrior 2.

I was blown away.

The last time I'd played computer games had been the late '80s, and those games were designed for computers without a whole heck of a lot of horsepower. Even the previous Battletech game I'd played (I don't remember the name of the game anymore, but it was released under the by then quickly dying Infocom brand, then owned by Activision) had relied on blocky, overhead graphics, and a turn-based combat system.

MW2, on the other hand, put you into that cockpit. When I booted up that first tutorial level, I was presented with a first-person view, looking out several 'mechs and a base, with some rolling hills in the background. There was a crackle of static, and the noise of something warming up, and then the HUD came on, and I realized that I was in the cockpit of this massive beast.

Now, this was not an easy game. The controls were deeply complex. After all, 'mechs are 50 ton tanks with a half-dozen weapons, sensitivity to heat, and a torso that swivels independently of the lower body. They may look like humanoids, but they're more like tanks with legs. It took me a day just to get through the tutorials. Still, it was deeply satisfying. I still vividly remember sitting in my Pittsburgh apartment, playing the game in the middle of the night with the headphones on, and just listening to the thump-thump-thump of my 'mech's feet as I lumbered along.

The difficulty, sadly, caused me to never finish the game. It was impossible to aim with any precision using the keyboard, so I relied almost exclusively on homing missles. This got me almost to the end of the game, but about four missions from the end I just couldn't make any more forward progress. I played a little with the multiplayer add-on (which showed up many months after the game itself), but it was even more difficult to play against actual humans (not to mention the pain-in-the-ass factor of using the 1995 dial-up Internet for online gaming).

Given my fond memories (including fond exasperation) of the experience, I looked forward to follow-on 'mech games. I was feeling broke when the MW2 expansion packs came out (not to mention frustrated that I hadn't finished MW2), but the next generation came by around the time that I'd invested in some 3D acceleration hardware. Sadly, Heavy Gear was a difficult-to-play disappointment. While there was finally support for mouse control of the turret, the interface for remapping the keyboard keys was, to put it gently, insane. To change a key assignment, you had to select the action you were rebinding and then select the key you wanted from a drop down list. You couldn't just hit the damn key. I just never had the energy level necessary to spend forty minutes rebinding all of my keys. And, frankly, the mouse control wasn't that hot.

My next attempt at a mech game was Starsiege. Again, the graphics had taken a quantum leap. The controls were even somewhat improved. However, the game's graphic engine tanked on my TNT video card, and that wasn't acceptable. I was finding that, despite my nostalgia for the genre and the idea, giant robots just weren't that fun to drive. This was corroborated by Heavy Gear 2 which I took a risk on based on good reviews, but was again deeply disappointed by (this time, by an out-of-date graphics engine, and missions with irritatingly fussy triggers and over-complicated stealth objectives). I was much more interested in getting my fix from more straight-forward first-person shooters.

(OK, now I'm directly talking about MW4.)

In fact, it was the fact that I'd played through all of those FPSs that led me to recently pick up MW4. I'd taken a pass on MW3 entirely -- I tried the demo, and failed to be enthused. I'd even tried the tech test of MW4, and had no real spark of excitement. But, on a whim, I picked up MW4, and I have not regretted it.

There are a few significant reasons why I'm finding this go-around fun. The first, and frankly most important, is the visuals. You can play MW4 from an exterior camera view (I mean really play, not just occassionally view from an external view), so you get to spend your time watching the beautiful visual models, gorgeous lighting, and the incredible attention to detail in the animations for the 'mechs. This is what giant robot fighting is all about, kiddos. Another big plus is actual usable mouse aiming control -- once I remapped the keyboard to place the movement controls on the left side, manuevering my walking tank has become a joy. On a more minor note, the "salvage" mechanism for progressively introducing better mechs and weapons is pretty smart (and it is possible to lose mechs and pilots because of disasters in mission, which is also a nice touch).

I do have some nits. I wish the zoom ability had some intermediate steps. I wish you could switch directly from cockpit to over-the-shoulder view, but the designers saw fit to include two other over-the-shoulder views you have to toggle through. I wish they'd avoided using real "actors" to do the pre-mission briefings. There's a plot, but it's not particularly compelling. I still wish games like these would include in-mission saves -- we're not all sadists who like to replay a 20 minute mission because of a screw-up in minute 19.

Bottom line: this is the first Battletech game directly designed from within FASA, and it shows. It's ironic and unfortunate that FASA has recently gone under (although I believe that FASA Interactive is actually part of Microsoft now).

(Complete aside: it's a hell of a lot nicer to sit on the couch and type on my PDA keyboard than on my laptop keyboard. It's not because of the keyboard's comfort, and it's not because the screen is anything but rinkydink. It's because there isn't a giant fucking power transformer resting directly against my bare skin. However, the keyboard's number row isn't set up quite right, so I keep hitting '0' when I meant to hit '-'.)

(Another aside: I tuned into the last 30 minutes of the XFL game as I typed this, just to see "what all the hubbub is about." Y'know, I'm not a football fan, but even I can tell this stinks. I kept seeing stupid mistakes and uninspired performance. Even the cheerleaders, who are supposed to be a big part of the draw, seem listless and confused. And it's supposed to be a big deal that everyone is miked, and that it's on a 5-second tape delay, but it just underscores the banality of it. If you're going to sell sex and violence, get serious about it. This is a pretty half-assed job, folks. I expected better (by which I mean worse) from old Vince McMahon. Maybe I'm missing something here -- maybe the masses want to see amateur hour. After all, this is similar to the low-rent antics I see on WWF. Maybe this is a reaction to over-production -- maybe this actually is appealing. But I find it doubtful. Based on what I see tonight, I have to imagine the XFL is going to tank.)

Friday, February 02, 2001

[Posted 2/2/2001 03:44:17 PM by tilt]
Well, I finally got the GoType! keyboard that I've had my eye on for a while now. Needless to say, I'm writing my description of my reactions to the thing on my PocketPC, using the keyboard.

Some general reactions:

  • Boy, is the keyboard dinky. I keep hitting the numbers instead of the top row letters. And yet, unlike the Stowaway, when it folds down, it's not actualy dinky enough.
  • I desperately need a mouse, or trackpoint, or whatever. Using the stylus to point while typing is a pain in the ass.
  • The PocketPC can be a little slow to react to typing if it's doing other stuff, as it's not exactly a workhorse, despite the fact that it multitasks.
  • That being said, the thing is nicely engineered -- it feels solid, and the key response is nice. It's also got some very cool features: you can use it for synching or for typing (you can attach a serial cable to it to turn it into a cradle, and the switch for making this switch looks very cool); you can also plug the power adaptor into it; it's got a bunch of programmable function keys and shortcuts that almost make up for the lack of mouse.

Overall, it's a slick little item, if I can get over the small keyboard area. I'm looking forward to seeing how well it integrates into my mobile usage. Sadly, it's too large to fit into the ole' man purse.

[I typed all of the above on the Casio, and also posted it from there, using the Socket Ethernet CF card that I have. However, I couldn't post the picture I took from the Casio, so I've done the rest of this from the desktop. Even my dorkiness knows limits. Note the red arrow, which indicates the ethernet connection; with the keyboard, this thing is about 80% of a laptop solution!]

See earlier stuff in the archives


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