My blog has moved! Redirecting…

You should be automatically redirected. If not, visit and update your bookmarks.

The Quixotic Engineer

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Screwfly Solution

The Screwfly Solution

In keeping with my love of excellent short stories, particularly dystopian science fiction, I highly recommend Raccoona Sheldon's Nebula Award-winning The Screwfly Solution. The title is a reference to the sterile insect technique used to eliminate the Screwfly worm in the USA, Mexico and parts of Centreal America. The story is a shocking one, dealing with themes of sexuality, violence and femicide, and is told in a great disjointed style through a combination of several narratives, letters and newspaper articles.

Read the story first (seriously, do it!), then consider the following: wouldn't it be great to see a video game set in the middle of an end-of-the-world scenario (not after one)? One where you start out in the near future, in a big city living a normal life. You start to hear dangerous rumours, maybe a deadly manmade pandemic, a militant religious organization, or some other Margaret Atwood storyline. From there you could have branching paths: do you petition the government? create a militia? go into hiding out in the country? Perhaps there could even be an element of randomness, where sometimes the rumours really are just rumours and you end up a paranoid conspiracy theorist!

This idea would definitely need some polishing and refinement (and I may have drawn liberal amounts of inspiration from Indigo Prophecy), but properly executed I think it could be really interesting. Leave a comment if you have any ideas on how this game could be implemented (or just call me crazy! That works too).

Labels: , ,

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Musical Box (Vol. 1)

Firstly, to clarify, this is not a post about the early-Genesis tribute band The Musical Box, although I hear that they're great. Instead, I thought I'd combine some of my recent musical discoveries in a (potentially) monthly post. I'll be embedding videos of the artists I mention only until I can find an audio alternative, since the lifespan of Youtube videos is often measured in weeks due to copyright policing.

I've dabbled in folk music, mostly enjoying the very famous artists from the 60's and 70's (Leonard Cohen, James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, etc.) After speaking with my friend Malini, who brought up artists such as Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco, I noticed that my preference for folk artists was majorly skewed towards male singers. That trend has begun to change recently after another friend introduced me to indie folk singer-songwriter Feist. Since her single "1 2 3 4" has been getting noticeable radio airplay after that new iPod commercial, I thought I'd talk about the slightly less well known Regina Spektor instead.

I first saw her perform on Conan O'Brien a few months ago, but only recently have I had a chance to enjoy her "Soviet Kitsch" and "Begin to Hope" albums. They're both musically, lyrically and thematically brilliant. Her voice has an unconventional quality that I can't quite pinpoint, which is emphasized of course by her frequent use of irregular vocal techniques. Perhaps being raised behind the Iron Curtain gives her a unique view on things, since her lyrics are whimsical and often silly, yet feel soulful and beautiful all the same. Wikipedia tells me that this is a characteristic of the "anti-folk" scene, but I'm not a big fan of fussily pigeonholing everyone into a restrictive musical genre.

If you've played through the excellent game Portal, which I wrote a little on last week, then no doubt one of your favorite moments was the song at the end entitled "Still Alive". This song was written by folk rock singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton, a man who has made great strides for both internet published musicians and the Creative Commons license. Being a programmer, I was first exposed to Coulton's music about a year and a half ago via his geeky hit "Code Monkey". His quirky and nerdy lyrics reminded me a little of the first few Barenaked Ladies albums, so I was immediately a big fan.

While Coulton does publish under Creative Commons and encourages people to spread his music around, keep in mind that he does make a living off his internet music. As such, I urge you to check out his MP3 store where you can listen to all of his songs and download them for the standard $1 each (no DRM either, eat your heart out major labels). My personal recommendations include the aforementioned "Code Monkey", "The Future Soon", "Ikea", "Re: Your Brains" and his folk cover of "Baby Got Back".

Lastly, along with just about everyone else on the internet, I've been checking out Radiohead's latest album, "In Rainbows". While their choice of digital distribution isn't exactly going to send the record executives packing just yet, I believe that this is most definitely a step in the right direction for the music industry.

As someone who really only got into Radiohead less than a year ago, I feel ill equipped to judge "In Rainbows". I do believe I'll just default to agreeing with Chris Dahlen, who wrote a sensible piece on the subject. It is in that spirit that I embedded Radiohead's excellent cover of "Nobody Does It Better" in lieu of one of their new songs.

That concludes volume 1 of my Musical Box experiment, here's hoping that I have the discipline to pick it up again next month!


Monday, October 22, 2007

Basic Instructions

Basic Instructions - How To Fake a Smile

I recently came across Scott Meyer's terrific webcomic Basic Instructions. The premise is "your all inclusive guide to a life well-lived", so each strip is a life guide to doing one particular thing. For instance, consider "How to Open a Snack Quietly", "How to Fake a Smile" or "How to be Suave".

What's especially great about Basic Instructions is how it manages to be funny on two levels; both explicitly through jokes and dialogue, and implicitly by describing uncomfortable situations that we all deal with in our daily lives.

Interesting side note: Dilbert author Scott Adams has recently been advising the other Scott in how to get his comic published in newspapers (a medium that requires considerable artistic compromise, but is much more lucrative). The comics that are only three horizontal panels long are the result of these experiments, in an effort to use the traditional newspaper format.


Friday, October 19, 2007

A Step Towards Parity

For those who are perhaps not aware of the situation, for many years the Canadian dollar was worth 0.70 - 0.90 cents to the US Dollar. Recent events in both countries have pushed the exchange rate closer to 1.035, which is great news for consumers in theory. However, many US-made goods have yet to match their prices to this new parity, video games included.

For instance, The Orange Box costs $59.99 USD at, but La Boite Orange costs $64.99 CAN at The same is true for all games; we're consistently paying 5-10% more for nothing.

It is for this reason that I salute Sony / Playstation 3 for taking the first step towards video game price parity for Canadians by matching the price on both their consoles and PSN downloads. Hopefully this move will force Microsoft and Nintendo to get their act together and price their games more fairly.

PS: Much support to my PAL brothers and sisters who have been putting up with even more ridiculously inflated prices for years.

Labels: ,

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Ōkami for Wii


Great news for you Wii owners: Ōkami, one of the overlooked gems of the Playstation 2, is being ported to your system. One of my personal favorites, Ōkami is an adventure game not entirely unlike The Legend of Zelda in execution. However, what has made the game truly iconic are the unique graphics and the creative Celestial brush system.

Ōkami is done entirely in the style of a Japanese Suibokuga (Ink & Wash) painting, and is steeped in Japanese mythology as well. In continuing with this theme, the hero Amaterasu has access to a weapon called The Celestial Brush which allows her to stop time and use paintbrush strokes to draw in various effects. For instance, a straight line cuts objects in half and an arced bolt can control lightning. Furthermore, Amaterasu can banish colourless cursed zones and restore life by reviving the trees with her brush.

While critically acclaimed, Ōkami sold poorly, which may or may not have contributed to the closing of the terrific Clover Studio. It's nice to see the game get another shot at success for the game-starved Wii, especially considering how well the Wii control scheme will work with the Celestial Brush. So spread the word to your casual gaming, Wii owning friends: buy Ōkami!


Sunday, October 14, 2007

I Love You Weighted Companion Cube

Having picked up the Orange Box late last week, I finally got a chance to play through Portal this weekend. Despite its brevity (3-4 hours for the main story), I can say with conviction that it will be remembered as a classic for years to come.

Valve could have easily rested on their laurels and sold Portal on its unique first person puzzle gameplay alone. Instead, they went the extra mile to really flesh out incredible atmosphere, terrific voice acting and quite possibly the greatest video game ending I've ever seen. They mix genuinely hysterical dialogue with a terrible sense of dread, which puts you on the edge of your seat while you're chuckling to yourself. It's as if someone mixed Cube and Brazil, then threw in an awesome portal gun for good measure.

The enemy turrets say "No hard feelings!" in a sing song voice when you deactivate them. The ubiquitous AI voice promises you cake at the end of the test, but when you venture behind the scenes you find scrawled graffiti saying "The cake is a lie!" There's danger everywhere, and your only friend is your stalwart Weighted Companion Cube.

Portal is awesome!


Thursday, October 11, 2007


A friend of mine from work got Joystiq'd today. In his free time, Renaud is the lead programmer for a game called Fez, a platformer game being developed by Kokoromi Collective, which is also entered in this year's Independent Games Festival.

Having tried the beta firsthand, I think the game will be a strong contender. Similar 2D/3D mechanics have been explored in games like Super Paper Mario and Crush, but Fez has enough interesting twists to be original in its own right. The graphics are vibrant and have an Earthbound-like quality to them, accentuated by the intentional 8-bit look. Furthermore, the physics for jumping are as tight as any Mario game, which is essential in a platformer.

Best of luck to Renaud and Phil Fish in the IGF!


Monday, October 8, 2007

Rainy Woods Trailer

Rainy Woods has been described as "Silent Hill meets Twin Peaks", but it reminds me of the film Se7en more than anything. Either way it looks fantastic, I'll be looking forward to this next year.

On a slight tangent, not only does the Orange Box come out this week, but it seems that Puzzle Quest is set to arrive on XBLA on Wednesday as well. With today being a holiday, this is shaping up to be one fantastic week. Happy turkey day, fellow Canucks!


Sunday, October 7, 2007

Why Console Gaming is Better Than PC Gaming

I had originally considered a more moderate title for this post, but I thought a bit of tongue-in-cheek flame baiting might be fun. First, a bit of exposition: outside of the RTS genre, I'm a dyed-in-the-wool console gamer. PC elitists frequently scoff at console controls, the mouse and keyboard interface for shooters becoming a virtual sacred cow among those raised on Quake and Unreal Tournament. As someone who loves lively pointless debating, I've decided to strike back and offer my perspective on why console gaming is better than PC gaming.

#1: The Posture

To quote Bill Nye the Science Guy, consider the following:

Console Gaming

Gamers and couches go together like zombies and shopping malls. Let's face it, most sedentary relaxing activities take place on a couch. They're comfortable for both sitting and lying down and it's virtually impossible to get any work done while on one. Now contrast this with the following:

Console Gaming

I dare anyone to try and play a PC shooter in anything but an upright sitting position. Call me lazy (true) and insult my posture (also true), but after working at a computer all day I have no interest in assuming the same position in my leisure time.

#2: The Controls

Console Gaming

As any handyman will tell you, use the right tool for the job. Let's face it, standard keyboards are not designed with gaming in mind. Moving with the WASD control scheme is at best like writing a novel with an oversized novelty pencil; you can do it, but it's sub-optimal and there are better tools available.

Of course, what PC gamer gladly clamour about is the precision of mouse aiming. This is, of course, a strong point of contention in my mind. See, I like a bit of imprecision in my shooter games; it gives a game that run-and-gun, "relying on instinct" feel. The precision needed to headshot someone from half a mile away with a mouse is more akin to the later levels of Trauma Center: Under the Knife than to an actual firearm.

#3: The Cost / Technical Requirements

Gaming is an expensive hobby, just ask any PS3 owner (zing). However, this cost is compounded by the ridiculous system requirements of cutting edge PC games. To keep up requires frequent upgrades to your system. Ponying up $500 for a new video card to run Crysis on the lowest graphics setting is utterly inconceivable in my mind.

Furthermore, with the endless PC hardware permutations it's often a toss up as to whether or not a game will run on your particular setup. If it doesn't, you have hours of potentially fruitless forum reading / driver & patch downloading ahead. As a software engineering student, I'm a fairly technically minded guy, but even I prefer the convenience of coming home with a console game and knowing that it will work from the moment I put the disc in.


Before I loose this fairly inflammatory piece on the world, I'd like to emphasize its generally facetious nature and also make a few concessions. I'm well aware that PC gaming does many things spectacularly well. One could argue that most console games are ported over PC eventually, so the game selection is rather terrific (although lacking in Nintendo and platformers). While Xbox Live and Playstation Network are good and getting better, they're years behind the online capabilities of PC games. The modding community is also especially top-notch, and having complete control over the platform you play on is definite boon. It's that very control that, unfortunately, leads to gross inconvenience when things don't work.

Ultimately, your choice of platform comes down to a cost-benefit analysis with your own particular values. As someone who appreciates convenience, comfort and cost over customization, processing power and control precision, I'm going to stick with console gaming. Snobbery is for jerks; either way you choose to game, game on!


Thursday, October 4, 2007

Halo 3 Lucky Shot

Regardless of how you feel about Halo 3, you've got to admit that's one lucky shot!

Labels: ,